The Wheeler Boys (Philip G. Flores, 2010): USA

Reviewed by Kathleen Amboy.  Streamed on Netflix in conjunction with the Los Angeles Film Festival.

Philip G. Flores is the 2009 winner of the Netflix/Film Independent FIND Your Voice competition for first time filmmakers.  The $350,000 valued prize consists of a cash production grant, camera and film supplies, a digital package and guidance with script development.  Flores’ winning entry The Wheeler Boys, which he directed and co-wrote, was streamed for 48 hours for free on Netflix, concurrently with the film’s premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

Truck and Ted Wheeler (Alex Frost and Lorenzo James Henrie) are brothers in high school.  They live alone with their drunk and abusive father Ron (Bill Campbell) who is confined to a wheelchair.  Truck is about to graduate and marry is pregnant girlfriend Lizzie (Portia Doubleday), but loves hanging out with the boys and chasing girls.  Ted (or Little Truck) is a bright student but admires his older brother so much, he’s willing to let his academics slide.

The Kings are a popular high school fraternity whose initiation is to bed a freshman virgin, and then have a K symbol branded on the back shoulder of the initiate.  Ted is a friend to many girls at school who admire his intelligence as well as his pleasant and easy going demeanor, but his priorities shift and his goal is to join the Kings alongside Truck.

The Kings start a new contest to see who amongst them can bed down the most freshman virgins until the end of the school year and Truck actively participates in the contest, while proclaiming his love for Lizzie.  Since the Wheeler Boys are minus a mother figure, Lizzie is always kind and pays special attention to the younger Ted.  As all the boys eagerly compete against each other, Ted (previously in denial about Truck) begins to see his brother in a new light, and loathes his betrayal of Lizzie, which eventually pits the brothers against each other.

A solid story with good dialogue and strong acting, I found this film to be surprisingly entertaining.  I would have enjoyed seeing more of Bill Campbell’s character, since I like this actor and haven’t seen much of him since 1991’s Rocketeer, and it might have helped to progress the plot at a different level.  There were technical problems streaming the film through Netflix on the first night, but 2 days later everything seemed to pan out and I was able to view it.  Overall with the help of a strong cast, Flores delivered solid work on his first time out as director/co-writer.

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