Even when presented with a reasonably original idea for a kids' movie like "Max Keeble's Big Move," Disney can always find a way to bleed all the color out of it and give the resulting product that Mouse House assembly-line feel.
Max (Alex D. Linz), our hero, is a diminutive, idiosyncratic seventh-grader with a rubbery face and a hurricane hairdo, who starts junior high on the wrong foot, running afoul of two bullies and the conniving school principal on the first day of class. The original idea in here is that just when he's sure he's in for a miserable year, his father announces the family is moving away, and Max realizes he has a golden opportunity to assert himself and wreak some havoc without any consequences.
Max concocts a plan to humiliate the bullies, expose the principal's illicit designs for the school budget, and make time with a ninth-grader (Brooke Anne Smith) so babelicious that she gets Britney Spears' "Hit Me Baby (One More Time)" as her very own theme song.
There's a gold mine of all-ages comedy to be had in this concept, but director Tim Hill ("Muppets From Space") and his trio of first-time writers adhere to that condescending belief that "it's just a kids' movie," so they just don't try very hard.
Sure, "Max Keeble" is a giggle-fest for the grade school set, but 90 percent of its laughs are from jokes and clichés that weren't even fresh when the East Side Kids peddled them. The principal dancing around with a squirrel in his pants or a teacher being pelted with pudding during a cafeteria food fight -- why not aim for something more? Why make a throwaway movie on purpose?
Hill is not as guilty as some kids' movie directors, but he is clearly more interested in casting flash-in-the-pan pop music idols (Lil' Romeo, the prepubescent rap-over-other-people's songs artist, plays himself) than he is in mining the novelties of the plot.
Max and his outcast best friends -- band geek Megan (Zena Gray) and a fat kid known as "Robe" (Josh Peck) because that's what he wears to school -- are anything but memorable. In fact, the least generic character in the film is also the most absurd -- a bully who fancies himself a Wall Street wiz, sporting a suit, tie, briefcase and Palm Pilot. Shouldn't this kid be on the receiving end of wedgies and swirlies?
The mugging charisma of Linz ("One Fine Day," "Bounce") and cleverness at the picture's core help "Max Keeble" cling to life while it's pummeled by patently unoriginal execution, simplistic plot developments (the superintendent is coming for an inspection) and inexplicable casting (fashion model Amber Valletta as a science teacher?!?).
But just when the plot thickens -- Max's parents decide not to move after all -- the last act goes flat with pat, gimmick-driven resolutions and a yawner of a climax that's so easy it smacks of lazy, disinterested screenwriting.
Is "Max Keeble's Big Move" adequate matinee fodder that will entertain adolescents and placate parents? Sure. But it could have been much more if the filmmakers had bothered to try a little harder.
Run time: 86 mins
In Theaters: Friday 5th October 2001
Box Office USA: $16.5M
Box Office Worldwide: $17.3M
Distributed by: Buena Vista Pictures
Production compaines: Walt Disney Pictures, Karz Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 29%
Fresh: 16 Rotten: 40
IMDB: 5.3 / 10
Director: Tim Hill
Starring: Alex D. Linz as Max Keeble, Zena Grey as Megan, Nora Dunn as Lily Keeble, Larry Miller as Principal Elliot T. Jindraike, Josh Peck as Robe, Orlando Brown as Dobbs, Justin Berfield as Caption Writer, Jonathan Osser as Worried Kid, Cory Hodges as Yearbook Photographer, Kyle Sullivan as Techie Kid, Shawn Pyfrom as Bus Prankster, Martin Spanjers as Runty Band Member, Bryan Matsuura as First Eighth Grader, Andy Morrow as Second Eighth Grader, Adam Lamberg as Eighth Grader On Bike, Nick Albert as Eighth Grader In Gym, Zachary Spound as Julius Klinghoffer, Lil Romeo as Himself, Maximilian Kesmodel as Four Year Old Max, Christian Boewe as Six Year Old Troy, Marcus Toji as Food Fight Chess Player, E.J. De La Pena as Pudgy 7th Grader, Ashly Holloway as Adorable 6 Yr. Old Girl, Brendan Hill as Pimply 7th Grader, Alexandra Kaplan as Kelly Lloyd, Noel Fisher as Troy McGinty
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