Review by Cole Groth
Walker Scobell is one of the biggest up-and-coming child actors, but his sophomore film, Secret Headquarters, plays very similarly to his first one, The Adam Project, and not quite in a good way. Both films have issues staying too safe, lacking CGI, and overall tonal issues. In Secret Headquarters, we see Scobell again play the child of a famous actor, this time Owen Wilson. While they work together rather well as a dysfunctional father-son duo, we aren't given enough time to truly develop their relationship. It leaves the film feeling like it overstayed its welcome while simultaneously not giving us the much-needed emotional connection to make this great. As it stands, this is a simply fine, occasionally very enjoyable superhero flick for kids to watch.
Now, I was personally very excited for this film to release because I wanted to see if Walker Scobell could finally star in an amazing film. After being very disappointed by his first film, I was eager to see if this had the heart of a film like fellow star Keith Williams's Good Boys. Unfortunately, this film keeps it pretty tame. Jokes aimed at the Gen-Z crowd fall flat because they aren't quite biting enough to feel representative of this generation and also feel fairly lame. Tonally, this film is all over the place. Sometimes it feels very mature, and that's when it works best, but other times it's hard to take certain characters seriously at all. Michael Peña is the best representative of this. On the one hand, it's hard to take him as this hardcore villainous character, but he's also surprisingly effective in his uncommonly mean role.
If this film focused less on the titular "secret headquarters," it would be a much more emotionally complex story that doesn't feel quite as cheap as it does. The CGI isn't that great, and limited sets seemed to me like they all belonged in the second act of an overarching story. Owen Wilson is advertised heavily as the lead for this, which feels entirely disingenuous after spending a large majority without him even on screen. Now, I don't have a problem with this because I was a big fan of Scobell's performance as the lead, but yet again, it would've been nicer if their relationship was the core of this film rather than the main plot of Peña's character trying to steal the energy source from the kids. However, there are certainly some interesting moments to be found when you put these characters in the same space for the 100-minute runtime. I like the idea of this infinite energy source being used by one superhero for good because it does beg the question of why The Guard, Wilson's superhero persona, doesn't share his power with the rest of the world. Since we never see him actually saving anybody, it would've been more interesting if we explored the details of The Guard as a superhero.
Overall, Secret Headquarters is a film that doesn't feel like it has much substance. It's decently entertaining at times, but movies like this are missing one fundamental thing: the script to make it feel like it has a lot of emotional energy to give. By the end, I feel like I didn't learn very much about any of the characters. There's not much of a point because, in the end, it only feels like this was a bit of a bloated mess where nothing happens. It feels a lot more like sequel-bait than it does its own original film, and that's just a lame way to make a film. This doesn't leave a sour taste in my mouth — it just leaves nothing to give besides a few silent chuckles and some interesting moments. Hopefully, Scobell will choose some roles in the future that require more emotionally complex performances because this film isn't quite super enough to feel like he's ready to be the next big star.
Secret Headquarters is available on Paramount+ starting August 12th.