Ansel Elgort and Chloë Grace Moretz star in a high-school homicide thriller that looks like an actual movie. But appearances can be deceiving.
A movie needs no ambition beyond the modest desire to occupy a viewer’s time. But in our spilling-over-with-content world, there are still films that can make you wonder: Why does this movie even exist? Take “November Criminals.” It’s a grade-Z teen homicide thriller that, judged solely by its IMDb page, has what you might almost call a pedigree.
Take the stars: Ansel Elgort and Chloë Grace Moretz, who bring their puppyish glitter-kid sparkle to the role of high-school seniors who are boyfriend and girlfriend (but not really) in suburban Washington, D.C. The movie also features David Strathairn and Catherine Keener as their respective single parents, and it was directed by Sacha Gervasi, the British crossover maverick who made “Anvil: The Story of Anvil” (2009) and the factually fraudulent but still enjoyable making-of-“Psycho” docudrama “Hitchcock” (2012). It all sounds respectable enough, but “November Criminals,” which opened on VOD ahead of its nominal theatrical release next week, has the spirit of what used to be called a straight-to-tape thriller. The most pressing dramatic issue it raises is why you’re bothering to watch it.
Not that it’s awful, exactly. It’s a low-budget generic shrug of a movie, one that recycles clichés both ancient (testy drug dealers) and slightly less ancient (the hero films his life with a camcorder). Ansel Elgort acquired cred with “Baby Driver,” but he can still leave you feeling like you’re seeing the second coming of Ashton Kutcher; he’s ingenuously baby-faced in a blank and slightly unctuous way. Elgort and Moretz play Addison and Phoebe, who transition into being more than friends when she asks him if they can lose their virginity together, all as a strictly practical warm-up for college. The two go through the motions of lovemaking as if it were a science experiment, but the joke is that — shucks! — they’re attracted to each other. They just won’t admit it.
All of this sounds like the plot of a bigger-budgeted teen potboiler entitled something like “First Time’s the Charm” — but, in fact, it’s got nothing to do with anything. “November Criminals” gets rolling when the two wander into a boutique coffee shop, where…