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
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.
Copyright © 2001 Dustin Putman