Courtesy of Amazon Studios
In Georgia 1977, the young and peppy Christmas Flint (McKenna Grace - wonderful) has dreams of reaching for the stars. In a hybrid of “The Sandlot” meets “The Little Rascals,” Bert + Bertie’s affectionate and heartfelt “Troop Zero” gets boatloads of charisma out of its tiny actors. This is a story about underdogs and misfits who come together for a common cause. This time it's about a scout troop determined to make it to a popular jamboree and win the grand prize (a NASA representative will record the winning troop speaking or singing on a golden record and send it to outer space). For Christmas, whose mother died when she was young and was told by her dad (known as “The Boss” played by Jim Gaffigan in a great role) that she went to the stars, the thought of getting a message into space is too good to resist.
She’ll have to assemble a squad to stand toe-to-toe with the biggest competitor on the block: Troop 5, who are obviously not very nice and are being groomed by their troop mother, Miss Massey (a fun Allison Janney). She does get a band together and because the state has no more numbers left to give, Christmas and her crew of outcasts get dubbed Troop Zero.
What helps “Troop Zero” from falling into “Daddy Day Camp” levels of awful is how all the young actors have spirit and spunk, and manage to hammer down their individual quirks all the way to the finale, which features a touching David Bowie homage. All of it makes “Troop Zero” a poignant and delightful offering in the dog days of January.
Of the young thespians, Grace’s bubbly performance as Flint lights up the scene and whose love for space is infectious. She’s not alone: Grace is joined by other wacky and easily identifiable side characters like the bully-turned-friend “human volcano” Hell-No (Milan Ray) and the larger than life Smash (Johanna Colon) who both envelop in their characters’ shenanigans which makes for some truly laugh out loud moments.
Viola Davis plays Rayleen who accidentally finds herself appointed as the Troop Mom while caught in a bind of whether she should go back to law school or continue being a lowly secretary. Davis provides a nice contrast to Janney’s sniveling Massey, with the Oscar winner able to get in a few comedic slugs and a monologue about her past detailing how she doesn’t want to be defined by her own life. It’s a stirring speech and quietly elevates the cheekiness “Troop Zero” radiates, especially as it borrows many sugary scenes of young actors bonding from other movies of the genre.
Considering “Troop Zero” is going straight to streaming, the plot goes down rather smooth and I give credit to director Bert & Bertie and writer Lucy Alibar for taking a tired formula and throwing a nice nostalgic spin on it. Everything from the thick Georgia accents or the greatest hits soundtrack that feature Elvis, Bowie, and Aretha Franklin, I love how “Troop Zero” wears its big heart right on its sleeve.