How to Eat Fried WormsReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 08/30/06 12:35:27
So my daughter, age six, has now been dealt her first blow in the ugly side of Hollywood reality: it turns out that the book “How To Eat Fried Worms” and the movie “How To Eat Fried Worms” have almost nothing in common beyond a title, a character name or two, and a concept. And whaddya know, she’s cool with it, despite the fact that she adores the book and spent the past week anxiously wondering how her favorite scenes would look in movie form. She enjoyed the movie, laughed at all the funny parts, cheered at all the happy parts, worried at all the tense parts. And for that, she says, the changes get a pass. Oh, and as for me, well, yeah, I kinda liked it, too.Although not quite as much as she did. The film has its charms, but to get to them, you have to sit through an unbearable amount of loudness - boys yelling, babies screeching, raucousness everywhere. It is a movie about boys, and as some of you may know, you put nine or ten or (heaven forbid) eleven boys together, sooner or later there’s going to be a need of a full bottle of aspirin. One scene in particular is, if I recall correctly, just a series of kids screaming at full volume. Toss in a preschooler with a penchant for drooling and shouting, and you have a film that you want to tell to go play outside for the rest of the afternoon, and right now, before I sell you all to the zoo, and don’t you think I won’t, mister.
So yes, the movie can be outstandingly irritating. But it’s also a lot of fun, with keen instincts on kids’ love for the gross-out. The film, written and directed by Bob Dolman (“The Banger Sisters”) and using almost nothing from Thomas Rockwell’s classic children’s novel, finds Billy (Luke Benward), the new kid in school, stuck in a bet with the class bully (Adam Hicks), in which Billy must eat ten worms, all on Saturday, without ever throwing up. And because the bully is a cheater and a creep, he gets to set new rules as the bet approaches, most notorious among them: the bully’s “team” will prepare all the worms as they see fit, which means the addition of such puke-ready recipes as tuna-and-marshmallow, hot sauce-coated, and - why not? - fried in giant slabs of lard. Yum!
Much of this is fairly sloppy - scene transitions are choppy (hey, let’s visit the diner! hey, let’s run to this kid’s house! hey, let’s go over here!) and there’s a clumsily redubbed line that seems to attempt to cover up a major gaffe in the logic of the whole thing - and nobody’s really trying to do anything new - once again, we learn that bullying is bad and friendship is good - which all cheapens the magic of Rockwell’s book.
And yet it’s so gosh darn likable. Benward is a terrific leading kid, being charming without being obnoxiously cutesy; he carries the film with great ease. At his side is an eclectic mix of kids that, in being cast to look a bit on the oddball side, they - gasp! - actually just look like a handful of ordinary, if weird, youngsters, which helps the film immensely, as we get a movie that feels real. That is, the premise is ridiculous, but the boys look and act and talk and yell and scream and jump and holler and sometimes irritate just like real boys.
There’s also a useless but very enjoyable subplot involving Billy’s dad, played by the great Tom Cavanagh; he’s also having a tough time adjusting to his new surroundings. A bit of dopey slapstick and a bit of heart from everyone’s favorite underused actor helps keep things moving ahead quite fine. (OK, so all of the dad stuff is completely unnecessary, but it’s so much fun, it doesn’t matter.)
But, of course, the main attraction here isn’t the dad, although he’s funny; nor is it the mean principal (James Rebhorn), although he’s funny, too; nor the return of sorts to the big screen by Hallie Kate Eisenberg, former kiddie star now in her early teens, although the inclusion of a girl character (not in the book, my daughter reminds me) makes for some too-true commentary on how boys and girls act around each other at such an age; nor, to be honest, the boys themselves, spastic and obnoxious and amusing as they may be.
Nope, the star of the show is the gross-out. This is a movie that promises kids that they’ll see some pretty disgusting stuff, and kids know just how much fun disgusting stuff can be. (Heck, there’s even a scene of the boys studying the disgusting parts of worm anatomy, learning the joys of the word “sphincter.” How very true.) With “Fried Worms,” we get a wide assortment of the icky and the yucky, and hey, as long as it’s funny, and as long as they manage to sneak in that Important Message without tripping over it too much, it works for me.Now please, you boys all need to go outside before you give me a headache.
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