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
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes