Ike Boys Review: A Love Letter To Anime And Outcasts [Fantastic Fest]

Over the years, Fantastic Fest has become known for its "weird" genre films. While it's not all that screens at the fan-favorite film festival, the oddest entries have often been the most memorable of its respective programs. Eric McEver's "Iké Boys" is an admirable addition to that line-up, even with its (sometimes many) imperfections.

McEver's passion for Japanese fantasy is on full display here, particularly in the story's leads. The film follows Shawn Gunderson (Quinn Lord), Vik Kapoor (Ronak Gandhi) and Miki Shimizu (Christina Higa) as they all try to navigate life as kids obsessed with cultures that are not their own. Shawn and Vik are outcast at their school thanks to their obsessions with all things Japanese. Meanwhile, Miki is the enthusiastic exchange student from Japan who desperately wants to learn everything she can about Native American culture. Though what brings Miki into the boys' lives is a bit of a nose-scrunch worthy mix-up between Native Americans and Indians, it's a strange film from a long-lost Japanese anime legend that will connect the three forever.

It's not long before Shawn, Vik and Miki find themselves in the middle of a plot hatched by moon-scepter wielding cult members. To make matters worse, they suddenly find themselves developing new powers that they have no idea what to do with (and aren't very easy to hide). It's in these moments that "Iké Boys" shines the brightest. The strong OG "Power Rangers" vibes help the zany material feel pretty natural. Anyone who grew up watching the original five will feel right at home in the strangeness of "Iké Boys." And, more importantly for some, it will make the effects seem a little more natural. (They are not good. They are not pretty. But they are, at the very least, relatively fun.)

A Film That Knows What It Is

While not even adjacent to a perfect film, "Iké Boys" succeeds because it knows exactly what it is. The strange love letter to Japanese gundam anime and outcasts who don't feel at home in their own world hits the right notes because McEver and co-writer Jeff Hammer clearly connect with the kids their story is highlighting. Meanwhile, everyone involved clearly understood the over-the-top assignment. Lord, Gandhi and Shimizu nail the level of extra expected from each of the leads. They're not alone, either. "Iké Boys" features a couple hilariously unexpected guest stars ala Billy Zane and "Farscape" actor Ben Browder. Neither actor is unfamiliar with zany projects — not a pun — but both actors' entrances elicited a hearty "Ha!" of recognition from me upon their entrances.

If there's one glaring failure here, it's the lack of Japanese involvement in the film. The reverence is there. But it certainly would have benefited from creative inclusion from those actually a part of the culture it's revering.

Go into "Iké Boys" expecting it to be what it is. The effects are never perfect, the performances are all extra, and the ending is like a warm, freshly made cheeseball. It's dorky! It's a silly, over-the-top love letter to weirdos written with all the earnestness of former weirdos. The earnest nature of the film is both its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. But I'll take dorky earnestness over cool glibness any day.