A feverishly shot coming-of-age tale infused with bloody crime and excessive nostalgia, writer-director Elijah Bynum’s Hot Summer Nights offers the audience little reason to brace for the ferocious storms that brew inside it. Biding its time before flattening a Massachusetts village of “townies” and affluent “summer birds,” 1991’s historic Hurricane Bob serves as this drama-cum-thriller’s on-the-nose backdrop. On the front burner simmers a metaphorical storm of love-struck youngsters and gangster wannabes, cooking up a lucrative drug operation with growing stakes. While Bynum captures the year of Terminator 2: Judgment Day and its transitional early-‘90s fashions with melancholic vividness, his paper-thin story of minimal character development ultimately resolves to a shrug.
Call Me by Your Name’s ever-intense wunderkind Timothée Chalamet plays Daniel, a directionless high-school graduate spending the summer at his aunt’s Cape Cod home. Befriending the locale’s infamous baddie Hunter (Alex Roe, a dreamy James Dean–Brad Pitt hybrid), brainy Daniel joins a smalltime marijuana venture, raising its profile and reach by several notches. If only his secret fling McKayla (It Follows’ Maika Monroe), the town’s legendary It girl, weren’t the grossly overprotective Hunter’s baby sister. Meanwhile a thuggish rival (Emory Cohen) and a skeptical cop (Thomas Jane), who puzzlingly acts like a no-nonsense sheriff in a Western, further twist things.
Bynum throws all his filmmaking influences at the wall to see what sticks—his debut has the faux appearance of a Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch knock-off, with even some Mean Girls–style character introduction mixed in. It’s a hodgepodge that sadly drowns out his own voice. Between a nagging single mom, an invisible aunt and girlfriends with no real stakes in the narrative, women get the short end of the stick. Accompanied by a frustrating voiceover narration, patronizing emotional cueing and an incessant soundtrack (Roxette, the Zombies, David Bowie, etc.), Hot Summer Nights often feels like a playlist you've heard many times before.