Producers: Ben Cornwell, Jordan Foley, Nick Smith and Ben Leclair   Director: Adam Carter Rehmeier   Screenplay: Adam Carter Rehmeier   Cast:  Conor Sherry, Gabriel LaBelle, Mika Abdalla, Gillian Vigman, Nick Robinson, David Costabile, June Gentry, April Clark, Kate Robertson Pryor, Steve Berg, J.D. Evermore, Christian James and Michael Bonini   Distributor: Republic Pictures/Paramount

Grade: C+

Despite the fact that the ads make it look like “Porky’s” redux, Adam Carter Rehmeier’s “Snack Shack” has higher aspirations: it’s a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age comedy-drama about growing up in small-town Nebraska in the early 1990s, and while much of it has the raunchiness and rough language typical of a rowdy teen flick (plenty of F-bombs here), it also wants to say something about the fragility of friendship, and of life itself.  Unfortunately, it too often stumbles into cliché, chaos and repetition, winding up a messy, overlong but generally likable trip down memory lane.

Rehmeier’s surrogate is A.J. (Conor Sherry), the more reserved member of a fourteen-year old duo, the other being his motormouth long-time pal Moose (Gabriel LaBelle).  In the summer of 1991, the fast-talking, heavy-smoking pair try a series of schemes to make money.  First they aim to hit it big at the dog-racing track across the state line in Iowa, which they run off to during a semester-ending school field trip to a zoo.  They get caught, and A.J.’s parents Jean (Gillian Vigman, rather shrill) and Judge (David Costabile, pleasantly sedate) threaten him with military school unless he shapes up, though the suggestion that he take on a grass-cutting business is undercut by allergies that almost prevent the wheezing kid from tending to the family’s own yard.

But that doesn’t deter Moose, an entrepreneurial hustler with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of get-rich-quick suggestions.  Next comes a plan to brew beer and sell whatever they don’t drink themselves.  When that idea is also stymied, even though an older friend pronounces the stuff pretty tasty, Moose suggests that they look into renting the snack shack at the local swimming pool and catering to the kids who descend on it every summer day.  Taking their college funds out of the bank (something that doesn’t sit well with their parents) and raising money through other means—like painting addresses on curbs—they outbid others at the town auction (by way too much, as it turns out) and begin cleaning out the crud, replacing the equipment as cheaply as possible, and ordering supplies from delivery men who might be persuaded to provide a few more boxes than they pay for. 

The operation turns out to be surprisingly successful, even if A.J. is stuck with more of the grunt work than self-styled idea man Moose.  Of course, they’re still the targets of the town bullies (Michael Bonini and Christian James), but fortunately they have a protector in A.J.’s older cousin Shane (Nick Robinson, excellent), a well-spoken veteran of the Gulf War who intervenes not only with their tormentors but A.J.’s parents who, he suggests to them, might be riding him too hard.

But alas, just as things seem to be going so well, the bond between A.J. and Moose is threatened by the arrival of Brooke (Mika Abdalla), a teen a bit older than the guys, who moves into the house next door to A.J. with her military dad while he awaits reassignment; she becomes a lifeguard at the swimming pool where the snack shack’s located.  Brooke is a sassy girl with a nasty mouth, but both A.J. and Moose are attracted to her, and she plays them off against one another, although she’s clearly more interested in swooning A.J. 

Despite the fact that Brooke and A.J. have gotten very close by the movie’s end—undermining the camaraderie between the guys—she remains even then a rather opaque character, in some respects a younger version of Mrs. Robinson.  To be sure, the queasiness factor is much less here, not just because all three are still teens and Abdalla, despite Brooke’s manipulations, keeps the character short of simple unpleasantness, but because Sherry and LaBelle, to be perfectly honest, look way past fourteen, though their exuberance and devil-may-care attitude when they’re together might convince you briefly they’re as young as the characters say they are.  On the other hand, their age helps the actors come across persuasively in the screenplay’s more serious moments. 

As when the movie takes a darker turn in the final act, in which a tragedy forces both A.J. and Moose to confront the realities of life and death and Brooke leaves town when her dad is ordered to Germany.  A final scene between A.J. and Judge, played nicely by both Sherry and Costabile, signals that his father recognizes that A.J. is growing up, and that their relationship, like the one the young man has with his best friend, is destined to change.

Shot in Rehmeier’s hometown of Nebraska City by cinematographer Jean Philippe Bernier, “Snack Shack” conveys a real sense of place, with Francesca Palombo’s production design no doubt reflecting how little the Midwest hamlet, with a population under 10,000, has changed over the intervening years, and the costumes by Anais Castaldi and Hannah Greenblatt capturing the period style without fuss.  One wishes that Justin Krohn’s editing might have smoothed out the ramshackle construction of Rehmeier’s script better, but Keegan DeWitt’s score, along with the obligatory pop needle drops, lends an appropriate tone to things.

Thanks especially to Sherry and LaBelle, Rehmeier’s disjointed “Snack” offers plenty of tasty bites, even if ultimately it doesn’t make for a well-rounded cinematic meal.