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'Troop Zero' review: Promising idea never gets fulfilled

Allison Janney and Viola Davis in Amazon Studios'

Allison Janney and Viola Davis in Amazon Studios' "Troop Zero."  Credit: Amazon Studios/Curtis Bonds Baker

THE MOVIE "Troop Zero"

WHEN|WHERE Streaming on Amazon Prime Video

WHAT IT'S ABOUT It's 1977 in a small Georgia town, and all schoolgirl Christmas Flint (McKenna Davis) can think about is finding her way onto one of the Voyager Golden Records. These were the recordings launched into space that year which included everything from Mozart to Chuck Berry to a recording of greetings in dozens of languages and photographs showing the diversity of life on Earth.

The winners of the state's Birdie Scouts jamboree will get the opportunity to be immortalized on this document of human life, but Christmas is prevented from joining her local troop. So she rounds up her fellow "misfits" and starts her own, with Miss Rayleen (Viola Davis) serving as their reluctant leader.

MY SAY At its best, "Troop Zero" evokes the wonder and mystery of outer space as seen from the perspective of a young girl. There are lovely scenes in this movie from the filmmaking duo Bert & Bertie that evoke the comfort to be found in contemplating the vastness of the universe. Earthbound problems like loneliness or grief or bullying at school seem infinitesimal when compared with the stars stretching across the wide open sky.

The problem is that there simply are not enough of these moments. Too much of the screenplay by the excellent "Beasts of the Southern Wild" co-writer Lucy Alibar remains wedded to the familiar narrative of social outcasts banding together to stand up against the popular kids. 

There is, of course, plenty of value in telling these stories for a younger audience, especially when they're about girls who reject the conventions imposed on them and embrace being different. 

McKenna Davis makes Christmas into a defiantly proud and determined person, unafraid to be herself. The other characters in her Troop Zero include a girl with one eye, a boy and others who do not fit the prim and proper archetype, and the movie unabashedly celebrates their differences.

The adults of note are frontlined by Davis, who relishes the chance to show off some comic chops in her early scenes as circumstances compel her into troop mother duty, as well as Allison Janney as the stern leader of the popular kids' troop. Jim Gaffigan plays Ramsey Flint, Christmas' dad, and chews some scenery with the world's thickest Southern accent.

It's just hard to shake the notion that we've seen this movie before — when our heroes proudly stride toward the camera in slow-motion, showing off their unique idiosyncratic style, it feels like warmed-over Wes Anderson. Fans of "The Bad News Bears" or any of its subsequent imitators will recognize a lot of the antics here.

There's nothing objectionable about pursuing this tried-and-true formula, especially with actors that are as good as this group, but "Troop Zero" promises something more and never quite fulfills it.

BOTTOM LINE There is a lot to admire in this movie about girls daring to be proudly, defiantly different, but it never lives up to its otherworldly promise.

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