Dir: Tim Hill. US. 2001. 80 mins.
Disney's latest live-action family film is a kid-centric and pleasantly rambunctious junior high school comedy that delivers its life lessons without losing its sense of fun. Pre-teens and parents should give the film a decent start at the box-office - perhaps more than decent in the US, given the country's current yen for warm, family-friendly entertainment - leading to a strong showing in ancillary markets.
Part of the film's appeal lies in its underdog point of view. It's the first week of junior high for the spirited but diminutive Max (Linz) and his two best friends, pretty but geeky Megan and eccentric Robe (Grey and Peck, who previously appeared together in the Nickelodeon Movies hit Snow Day). The kids quickly learn their place in the school hierarchy: a long way below the older in-crowd, the hallway bullies and the sadistic, scheming Principal Jindraike (Miller).
When Mr Keeble announces that the family is abruptly moving to another city, Max sees the chance to get revenge on his oppressors without fear of reprisal. With Megan and Robe as his reluctant accomplices, he concocts an elaborate scheme to give everyone their just deserts in the week before he moves away. But when the family re-location is cancelled at the last minute, Max realises that his plan has made his friends' lives miserable and he sets about the task of cleaning up the mess he has created.
With a kinetic, cartoonish visual style, a hip-hop-inspired music track and nods to teen culture trends (skateboarding legend Tony Hawk and rapper Lil' Romeo both make cameo appearances), the film seems to have the right kind of cool credentials for its youthful audience. The comedy is mostly rudimentary - lots of basic slapstick and Nickelodeon-style 'sliming' - but funny enough to keep parents as well as kids amused.
The film's morals are not particularly sophisticated either, but they are deftly delivered and they never interrupt the comic flow. As he struggles to find his place in the new world of high school, Max learns the importance of self-assertion (a lesson he shares with his harassed dad), the value of true friendship and the best way to deal with life's bullies.
Among the main performers, Linz (from Bruno, Bounce and Home Alone 3) is brimming with energy and cheeky charm and veteran comedy bad-guy Miller (recently seen in Disney's The Princess Diaries and both Nutty Professor films) adds a very funny acidic tang to his otherwise standard character.
Prod cos: Walt Disney Pictures, Karz Entertainment
US dist: Buena Vista
Int'l dist: Touchstone Pictures
Prod: Mike Karz
Exec prod: Guy Reidel
Co-prods: Raymond C Reed, Russell Hollander
Scr: Jonathan Bernstein, Mark Blackwell, James Greer.
Cinematography: Arthur Albert
Ed: Tony Lombardo
Prod des: Vincent Jefferds
Music: Michael Wandmacher
Main cast: Alex D Linz, Larry Miller, Jamie Kennedy, Nora Dunn, Robert Carradine