Daniel Radcliffe doesn’t look uncomfortable, exactly, in December Boys, but he does look like a hot transfer student trying to fit in with local pipsqueaks a head shorter and two grades below him. Then again, were Radcliffe not making his first screen appearance since Harry Potter stardom as the oldest of the title lads, there’s a good chance this insular, Oz-centric tale might never have made its way Stateside at all. The boys are orphanage buddies in the early 1960s, sent for a seaside South Australian summer vacation. Frolicking ensues, clouded only when one of the tykes gets wind of a rumor that the quartet might actually be auditioning for adoption. And then competition ensues. Plus some cute-Catholic-childhood stuff involving cartwheeling nuns.
The movie is adapted from Michael Noonan’s 1963 novel of the same name, loved in Australia as a modern classic of young-adult literature. And the filmmakers can’t decide whether to trust the period innocence of the book (and play down their casting coup) or let the young man rip as a preteen-babe magnet (he’s notably shirtless, buff, and attracted to a sexually experienced girl who’d never be allowed into Hogwarts).
So December Boys splits the difference — safely, dully. Those who want a cheekier Radcliffe are directed to the actor’s guest appearance as himself on HBO’s Extras, especially when he declares, ”I’ve done it with a girl, intercourse-wise.” The line is funny enough to make a nun flip. B-