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(2001) (Alex D. Linz, Larry Miller) (PG)

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Comedy: Believing that he's moving to another city, a junior high student sets out to get his revenge on all of those who've wronged him in the past.
It's the first day of 7th grade at Curtis Junior High for Max Keeble (ALEX D. LINZ) and his best friends, Megan (ZENA GREY) and Robe (JOSH PECK). Having survived the summer of being pursued by the vindictive Evil Ice Cream Man (JAMIE KENNEDY), Max is hoping for a fresh start, particularly upon spotting the girl of his dreams, Jenna (BROOKE ANNE SMITH), who he knows from his paper route.

Yet, he discovers that middle school life isn't going to be much different than before. For starters, the school's two bullies -- Troy McGinty (NOEL FISHER), who's announced he's going to beat up one kid each day, and Dobbs (ORLANDO BROWN), who takes money from kids in the guise of investing it for them - have already picked on him.

To make matters worse, the fanatical school principal, Mr. Jindraike (LARRY MILLER) - who's after the job of Superintendent Knebworth (CLIFTON DAVIS) - reprimanded him for being thrown into a trash dumpster. Thus, when Max's parents, Lily (NORA DUNN) and Don (ROBERT CARRADINE), announce that they must move to Chicago by the end of the week for his dad's job, one would think that would be the last straw for Max.

Instead, the resourceful youngster decides that if he's moving and thus won't face the repercussions of his actions, he'll get even with those who've wronged him in the past. From that point on, and with the aide of Robe and Megan, Max begins his course of retribution, only to discover that not all plans are foolproof.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
It's been said that whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. Thus, most of life can be seen as a nonstop series of strength training events, and few of those times are as turbulent as the school years. That's particularly true in middle school when kids are going through various stages of social and biological upheaval, all at different rates.

Much like in real life, there are then the haves and the have-nots, where unless you're one of the more popular, smarter or athletic kids, you often end up in the second grouping, somewhere far down the food chain of social rule.

Accordingly there are kids who end up being picked on - in one fashion or another - and think about - at the time or in hindsight - about getting even with those who've wronged them. Of course, doing so would mean serious academic and/or physical repercussions, and so most students take such abuse.

Yet, what if there was a way to get even without the accompanying punishment? That's the premise of "Max Keeble's Big Move," a film that draws its inspiration from all sorts of other pictures and TV shows, It may also entertain its target audience, but clearly not in much of an imaginative, original or remotely realistic fashion.

Part "Wonder Years," part "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" with a bit of "Recess: School's Out," "Animal House" and "My Bodyguard" thrown in for good measure, the film is rather unwieldy in concept and final execution, with director Tim Hill ("Muppets From Space") and novice screenwriters Jonathan Bernstein & Mark Blackwell & James Greer (all making their collective feature film writing debut) never quite pulling in the reins and/or deciding on a tone or style for the film. The result is a frenetic and chaotic experience that favors style over substance in telling its tale to kids, many of whom will obviously identify with the young and pintsized protagonist.

As played by Alex D. Linz ("Bounce," "Home Alone 3"), the plucky hero character never quite works the way it was probably planned, with too many smirks and too much voice over narration standing in for more substantive material. That said, Linz manages to inject some life into the otherwise innocuous character, even if it and most of the rest of them are non-realistic and not particularly interesting or engaging characters.

The exception is the one embodied by Larry Miller ("The Princess Diaries, "Nutty Professor II: The Klumps") who purposefully chews into the scenery with such ferocity that you'd think he was part beaver. Playing a principal seemingly either related to or formerly taught by Ed Rooney - the principal deliciously played by Jeffrey Jones in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" - Miller gets most of the film's best and funniest moments as the self-serving administrator, even if the material is inconsistent and occasionally shortchanges his efforts.

Unfortunately, the rest of the cast is rather bland in comparison. Zena Grey ("Summer Catch," "Snow Day") and Josh Peck ("Snow Day") play the protagonist's best friends, but can't do much with their underwritten roles, which also holds true for Noel Fisher ("Freddy Got Fingered," "Valentine") and Orlando Brown ("Senseless," TV's "The 70s") as the school's bullies, especially with the latter looking about ten years too old to play the part.

A running gag featuring Nora Dunn ("Heartbreakers," "What Planet Are You From?") as a house-obsessed mother goes absolutely nowhere, as does the whole bit about Max's attraction to a young girl - played by Brooke Anne Smith (making her debut) - that gets its only kick from Britney Spears' "...Baby One More Time" that plays whenever she appears. Then there's the subplot featuring the "Evil Ice Cream Man" that is more far irritating than funny, particularly due to the purposefully grating way in which Jamie Kennedy ("Bait," the "Scream" movies) plays the part.

Most disappointing, however, is the writing and basic plot that stems from the well-worn but still potential filled premise. With its ever-changing tone, the film never really gets its footing, and both the wrongdoings inflicted upon the protagonist and his subsequent retaliation never come off as particularly clever, interesting or funny.

While young kids might enjoy the various shenanigans, all I could think about during the cafeteria food fight and vindictive Ice Cream Man moments was that the filmmakers must have been watching "Animal House" and "Snow Day" while writing/making the film, and that those earlier pictures handled the material so much better.

Too uneven and not imaginatively fun enough for a kid-oriented film, "Max Keeble's Big Move" might be okay for diverting the kids for 100 or so minutes, but it's not much better than the easily forgettable straight to video and made for TV efforts it so apparently resembles. The film rates as just a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 29, 2001 / Posted October 5, 2001

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