Folks buying a ticket to Ashby hoping to see a film about the late-great director of Being There and Harold and Maude are about to be sorely disappointed. So is everyone else. Written and directed by Tony McNamara, this coming-of-age story about a high school misfit (Nat Wolff) who befriends his crotchety next-door neighbor who just happens to be an ex-assassin (Mickey Rourke) is a schmaltzy shambles. I didn’t buy any of it for a second. You won’t either.
Wolff, who graduated from scene-stealing third wheel in The Fault in Our Stars to the romantic lead in Paper Towns is a long way from the nuance of John Green here. As Ed, a newly transferred, misunderstood motor-mouth who knows just enough to see through the insecure façade of the school jocks but not enough to figure out why he secretly want to become one of them, Wolff displays a likable brand of harmless cool. Especially when he’s swapping flirty banter with his classmate and crush, Eloise (Emma Roberts). But his relationship with the gruff hitman on the block makes for some tough (and sappy) sledding.
Rourke, whose face has become an inexpressive waxwork in recent years, doesn’t do much with what’s already a pretty undercooked role. As the mysterious Ashby, he welcomes Ed into his life all too easily and confesses his dark past way too quickly. You can pretty much guess what happens from there: Ashby teaches Ed how to grow a pair and stand up for himself, and Ed teaches Ashby that it’s never too late to atone for past sins. Sarah Silverman turns up from time to time as Ed’s lonely, floozy mom, and gives the film its few drive-by blasts of fizzy unpredictability. Both of the film’s stars can do better than this, and I’m sure that they will soon. But for both of their sakes, Ashby should vanish quick enough into the multiplex oblivion. C-