A friendly game of capture the flag turns ugly in "I Declare War," an entertaining and insightful portrait of boyhood from co-directors Jason Lapeyre (who also scripted) and Robert Wilson (who also produced). Harking back to a more innocent time, when kids played war in the woods rather than on video-game consoles, their guns are fashioned out of sticks and their grenades are paint-filled water balloons.
Reigning champ PK (Gage Munroe, with a little-boy voice, braces and intense blue eyes) has never lost a war, but when Skinner (Michael Friend) takes out his own general, it becomes clear that today's battle is personal. The consequences may not be life or death, but in the heightened emotions of a bunch of 12-year-olds, they feel that way. By the end, these boys and one girl (watch out for her — she has "techniques") have been through something together they can never come back from. War changes people.
Part of the charm of "I Declare War" is entering the kids' imaginary world, where their weapons, and in one case superpowers, are as real to them as they appear on-screen. To help the audience access this realm, and to raise the emotional stakes, the filmmakers have the actors carry actual pistols, machine guns, crossbows and even a bazooka for most of the film.
The performances may be slightly uneven across the cast of a dozen distinct personalities (plus a dog), but overall the effect works because, after all, they're just playacting … right?
"I Declare War"
MPAA rating: None
Running time: 1 hour, 34 minutes
Playing: Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.