Max Keeble's Big Move
Rated PG, 86 min. Directed by Tim Hill. Starring Lil' Romeo, Orlando Brown, Noel Fisher, Robert Carradine, Nora Dunn, Zena Grey, Josh Peck, Jamie Kennedy, Larry Miller, Alex D. Linz.
Disney's latest live-action cartoon is a frenetic affair, busy and silly enough to make family froth like The Princess Diaries look like Grand Illusion. It's cut from the same kid-farce cloth as last year's Snow Day, with which it shares two kid stars (Peck and Grey) and an m.o.: Amidst a flurry of gross jokes, sight gags, and disposable pop rock, a pee-wee wisenheimer with a clueless dad fights “the system,” fawns over the wrong girl, and bests a generically named, over-the-top nemesis (here, Jamie Kennedy as an ice cream man, to Snow Day's seething snowplower, Chris Elliott). Max Keeble doesn't have nearly the same cult cachet (its cameo appearances top out with skateboarder Tony Hawk and pint-sized rapper Lil' Romeo), so its appeal is probably limited to preteen viewers, who won't respond to the Twisted Sister joke in the denouement or the product placement for Handspring. In his first day of junior high, the titular mensch (Linz) gets roughed up by bullies (Fisher and Brown) and runs afoul of the dastardly Principal Jindraike (Miller), who's siphoning money away from the three Rs and into a giant football stadium. It all seems hopeless until Max's aforementioned clueless dad (Carradine) announces that the family is moving to Chicago at the end of the week. With apparently nothing to lose, Max and his friends fight back against their myriad tormentors in a scheme involving bottled pheromones, a euphonium full of mustard, a Scottish cartoon frog named McGoogles, and other tomfoolery. As in the case of most cinematic juvenilia, a committee of screenwriters and story writers keep the jokes flying so furiously that some are destined to land, though none are the least surprising; the first risible crotch injury arrives about a minute into the film. Pity the young Peck, a likable young actor who, as the requisite fat kid, must sport a smelly bathrobe, eat virtually everything that crosses his path, and become stuck in various doorways with clockwork regularity. Elsewhere, expect chimpanzee farts, regurgitated chili, wacky exchange students, and a food-fight sequence filmed as grandly as the frontier battle in Heaven's Gate. The preview audience of small fries seemed to appreciate this thoroughgoing comic mayhem well enough, and the language doesn't get any stronger than “fartknocker.” Yet I can't imagine why director Hill (Muppets From Space) found it necessary to film the requisite babes (Brooke Anne Smith as Max's ninth-grade dream girl and supermodel Amber Valleta as a teacher) with cheesecake slow-motion and crotch-level lingering. On the other hand, the producers care so little about Max's legitimate love interest (Grey, who dares to look her age) that her character -- whom the script calls Megan -- is listed in the promotional materials as “Woodwind Girl,” presumably because she plays the clarinet. Parents looking for a bright spot should meditate on the film's wholesome messages -- the dorky kids learn that “getting revenge on the bullies makes us the same as them” and the kids performing gratuitous skateboard stunts are all wearing helmets and pads.
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