A tame, dumbed-down, PG-rated version of 1996's "Welcome to the Dollhouse" with a revenge plot thrown in for good measure, "Max Keeble's Big Movie" is an obnoxious comedy for pre-teen audiences that tries to be both heartfelt and crudely wacky. It fails miserably on both counts, while offering up a collection of adult characters so mean-spirited and unredeeming that they sink the whole production.
On his first day of 7th grade, 12-year-old Max Keeble (Alex D. Linz) is determined to enter into junior high school with a fresh start and a newfound popularity. It immediately doesn't turn out as he had hoped, with the school bully Troy McGinty (Noel Fisher) choosing Max as his first victim of the new school year. With only two loyal, equally outcast friends, Megan (Zena Grey) and Robe (Josh Peck), Max has a slew of people in his life determined to make things tough on him, including the inept school principal (Larry Miller) and a demented ice cream truck man (Jamie Kennedy).
When his parents (Robert Carradine, Nora Dunn) abruptly announce that they will be moving to Chicago at the end of the week, Max decides to get back at all of the people who have wronged him. His problems thicken when, following a job well done, his parents decide to stay where they are, leaving Max in a whole lot of trouble with his classmates and teachers.
"Max Keeble's Big Move," directed by Tim Hill (1999's "Muppets From Space
"), is the latest live-action Disney release that proves the studio is at the top of their game in the animation department, but have no idea how to make a quality family film using human actors. While the film isn't quite as bad as 1997's "Mr. Magoo" and 1999's "Inspector Gadget
," it's still pretty crummy on a number of levels.
For the first half of the too-long 86-minute running time, nearly every caricature who comes into contact with Max (a cute kid who simply hasn't gotten his growth spurt yet) acts so despicably toward him it leaves an instant bad taste in your mouth. The movie is unrealistic in the extreme; with teachers and faculty (save for the sweet-natured chemistry teacher, played by Amber Valletta) who taunt, berate, and are just plain nasty to the students, the school is portrayed as a place you wouldn't wish your worst enemy to have to attend.
By the time Max begins his reign of revenge, the film has resorted to one obligatory, unfunny scene after the next, from a squirrel that attacks the principal, to a neverending cafeteria food fight that serves no purpose to anything that has come before or comes after. A subplot involving the nasty ice cream truck man who is always trying to run down the bicycle-riding Max is preposterous and takes up far too much screen time, even for a movie like this.
Alex D. Linz (2000's "Bounce
"), along with young co-stars Zena Grey (2001's "Summer Catch
") and Josh Peck (2000's "Snow Day
"), bring natural charm and energy to their parts, far more than the particular film deserves. Linz, somewhat of an acting veteran at only 12, has to carry the entire picture (he's in every scene), and he does so with reasonable aplomb. Perhaps one day he will get the types of roles worthy of his charisma. Newcomer Brooke Anne Smith, as 9th-grader Jenna, whom Max has an irresistible crush on, is also fine, although one must question the exploitation factor of a character whose every entrance is accompanied by Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time."
In the adult department, only Amy Hill (2000's "Next Friday
"), as the principal's feisty assistant, shows any sort of humor or class. She is basically doing a rendition of Edie McClurg's superior character from 1986's "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," but at least she's entertaining. As for everyone else, the usually good Larry Miller (1999's "10 Things I Hate About You
") is perfectly dreadful as the conniving principal; Robert Carradine (2001's "Ghosts of Mars
") and Nora Dunn (2001's "Heartbreakers
") play Max's one-dimensional parental units; and Jamie Kennedy (of the "Scream" series) is slumming it as the loony ice cream vendor.
"Max Keeble's Big Move" is the exact type of assembly-line product that gives family films a bad name. Nothing present even partially resembles the way real life is, and its sudden attempt at offering a moral to the story during the finale feels preachy and lame. Young kids may like the movie as a whole (others stay far away), but it is guaranteed that no audience member, young or old, will be able to relate to it.
©2001 by Dustin Putman