Review: IKE BOYS, Fun and Charming Palate Cleanser
The story goes that back in the late 60s, a dynamic anime director in Japan made a very ambitious movie that bombed at the box office. Shelved in the company archives, the film escaped a warehouse fire and became the stuff of legend. At least it is to two anime fans in Oklahoma, best friends Shawn and Vik.
It’s 1999, the turn of the century, and the eve of 2000 and the frenzy surrounding Y2K. Vik’s family, the Ghandi’s, have taken in Miki, a Japanese student for the holidays. Obsessed with Native Indian culture, she thought she was coming to stay with an American Indian family, not the Gandhis. When life gives you lemons.
Shawn has found a bootleg DVD copy of the infamous anime and when they sit down to watch it, something magical happens. Shawn and Vic begin to transform into two of the characters, a mecha and a kaiju. These newfound powers create their own issues between the two friends but then a doomsday cult shows up, intent on awakening old gods just in time for the new century. Because that’s where the old gods lie, in Oklahoma. What fun.
Director and writer Eric McEver has poured all of his life experiences -- a childhood in Oklahoma and a creative journey in Japan -- into his new film, Ike Boys. Together with his co-writer and producer Jeff Hammer, they pay tribute to the Sentai type of shows, except they’ve changed it up a bit. With their movie, you have a reversal of the story order of an episode of Sentai but keep the ratio.
You know, you have an episode where the good guys battle the bad guys, and right at the very end there is an object lesson for kids to learn from? Well, in Ike Boys you get all those morality and life lesson moments, followed by a little bit of action. The story focuses more on Shawn and Vik’s friendship and what these newfound powers could do to jeopardize it. Likewise, Miki must come to understand why she felt that coming all the way to Oklahoma from Japan was going to help her
Keeping with the wholesome nature of its influencers, Ike Boys is an altruistic movie with barely a mean bone in its body. The goal wasn’t to set up big set pieces with lots of wild action. Any action that happens here merely raises the stakes here, so it’s imperative that Shawn and Vik fix themselves, then their friendship, so they can save the day.
We love that the mecha and kaiju were real costumes worn on set. The character design, the way the mouth doesn’t move on the kaiju costume when Vik speaks. That’s great. The low-key special effects are cheesy. Also great. And it’s all intentional. All of it is meant to be fun, in keeping with the small-screen budgets and that can-do spirit of those original Japanese shows. Being cool can take a back seat to being fun.
Billy Zane is deceptively charming in his supporting role as Newt Grafstrom, the ex-Navy seaman who runs the local karate dojo. Shaku Yumiko is a Sentai/Anime alumni back in Japan and plays Newt’s wife Reiko, a point of comfort for Miki in this strange land of Oklahoma. Likewise Ben Browder is very good as Shawn’s dad, Wayne. All three of them are presented as having this old world, folksy wisdom that they bestow upon these youngsters. It’s nice having those kinds of role models for Shawn and Miki in this story.
Ike Boys is fun and charming. It works as a feel good palate cleanser, something to counter big and loud productions hell bent on cramming as many effects into every minute as the story will allow. The life-lesson-over-action structure works here because simply more time is spent on it. The action is just a fun way to reward yourself for learning something other than how to land a proper hero stance off your living room couch.
Review originally published during Fantastic Fest in September 2021. The film is available on Digital and On Demand everywhere as of today, October 11, 2022, via Shout! Studios.