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The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

Starring: Kieran Culkin, Jena Malone
Director: Peter Care
Rated: R
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: June 2002
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Vincent D'Onofrio, Jodie Foster, Emile Hirsch, Jake Richardson, Tyler Long

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

Peter Care's uneven drama, THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS, has several nice, although not exactly memorable moments. A coming of age story about Francis Doyle (Emile Hirsch) and his buddy Tim Sullivan (Kieran Culkin, CIDER HOUSE RULES), the story is set at a Catholic high school, in which -- Yes, you guessed it! -- the nuns cruelly harass and embarrass the students. How's that for an original movie idea? What's different this time is that an actress of Jodie Foster's caliber has a small part as the meanest of the sisters. The boys refer to her in their comic book drawings as nunzilla. (Portions of the movie are animated with the kids in the story taking on the parts of superheroes who battle nunzilla and company. These parts are kind of cute and never overstay their welcome.) Vincent D'Onofrio has a small part as a lovable but profane priest who consults a fortune-telling 8-ball for advice.

The only completely successful part of the plot involves Margie Flynn, Francis's new girl friend. She's a teen with a terrible secret burning deep within her. Jena Malone from LIFE AS A HOUSE plays Margie with touching tenderness, and the romance between her and Francis is sweet and genuine.

The rest of the movie has its problems, but none more so than the big tragedy that is telegraphed from almost the beginning. Similarly, no sooner does Margie tells us that she is repressing a big secret than she instantly reveals it. Why do writers diminish their own work by giving away their big surprises? This is just sloppy writing. Give the audience a little more credit.

With its underage drinking, drug taking, vandalism, desecration of religious statues and dangerous pranks, the movie isn't afraid to tackle controversial subjects. I just wish it had found more interesting and original things to say about them. I also wish that there might be a filmmaker somewhere who would be willing to take some real risks. Make a modern movie about Catholic schools in which they are not held in ridicule. Then again, don't waste your time. It'll never get greenlighted by the studios.

THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS runs 1:45. It is rated R for "language, sexual content and youth substance use" and would be acceptable for older teenagers.

Copyright 2002 Steve Rhodes

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