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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

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Review by Susan Granger
3½ stars out of 4

First, let me assure you that this imaginative adaptation of the late Chris Fuhrman's novel has nothing to do with the Catholic Church's current child-abuse scandals. Instead, it's a coming-of-age drama for adults who are hip enough to recall their comic-book-influenced adolescence. The '70s story revolves around two parochial school pals - Francis Doyle (Emile Hirsch) and Tom Sullivan (Kieran Culkin) - who chafe under the strict, oppressive regime imposed by zealous, peg-legged Sister Assumpta (Jodie Foster). Their families may be dysfunctional but their imaginations know no bounds as Francis channels his repressed rage into sketching a comic book with three superheroes, "The Atomic Trinity," who battle the big, bad, motorcycle-riding Nunzilla in the kingdom of Sorcerella. Francis also falls for troubled classmate Maggie Flynn (Jena Malone), who's hiding a shameful secret. But it's mischievous Tim who believes "Risk leads to greatness" and devises devilish pranks - like dumping Valiums in the communion wine, swiping the school's prized statue of St. Agatha, and concocting an ill-fated plot to capture a cougar from the Animal Forest to terrify Sister Assumpta. And there's a chain-smoking priest (Vincent D'Onofrio) who speaks in platitudes when he isn't swearing, "Jesus H. Christ!" ("What does the H. stand for?" the boys ask.) Director Peter Care and writers Jeff Stockwell & Michael Petroni adroitly mix realistic segments with "Spawn" creator Todd McFarlane's vivid, fantasy "alter-ego" animation. On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" is a innovative, irreverent 8, cleverly capturing the challenging, chaotic confusion of youth, reminiscent of Francois Truffaut's "The 400 Blows" (1959). It's splendidly stylish, scary, savvy story-telling.

Copyright 2002 Susan Granger

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