They're taking on the world. One bully at a time.
I have to admit I find myself easily annoyed by the many cookie-cutter movies found playing regularly on the Disney Channel. Then again, I'm not their target audience. Pre-teen kids of both family and friends are mesmerized by these movies, even after they have seen them several times. Max Keeble's Big Move, from all outward appearances, seemed to be yet another addition to this genre. To say I was not looking forward to this review would be an understatement. Imagine my surprise when I found myself laughing out loud and truly enjoying this film—of course, I write this while waiting to have my head examined.
Facts of the Case
Our story begins on Max's (Alex D. Linz) first day of middle school—a new look and a new attitude fueling his adventurous spirit. Joined by friends Robe—yes, a big kid whose daily ensemble is accented by a bathrobe—and Megan, the clarinet girl, our trio of heroes embark on a coming-of-age adventure in a new school. Of course, new schools also have new challenges and enemies—enter Principal Jindraike (Larry Miller), a self-absorbed moron with his eyes set on becoming the next superintendent—Troy McGinty (Noel Fisher), former friend and resident bully who announces his daily victim to an awaiting crowd by revealing their name on his T-shirt each morning—and Dobbs (Orlando Brown), a former Wall Street tycoon turned milk money thug who invests his victim's cash while dispensing investment advice to teachers in exchange for protection. Add in a running battle between Max and a twisted ice cream man (Jamie Kennedy) and you have the setup. Now for the plot—Max quickly becomes the most terrorized new kid in school. Seems like everyone is after him, putting Max on the defensive. But fate has a funny way of stepping in and lending a hand when you need it most. When Max's dad (Robert Carradine) announces his job will force their family to be move in less than a week, Max is struck with a brilliant idea. What better way to exact justice on your tormentors than the old "hit and run."
On the surface, Max Keeble's Big Move would appear to be just another formulaic pre-teen flick that could star any annoying child actor (paging Mr. Jonathan Lipnicki). However, five minutes into it you realize there is something different going on here. Slick animated character intros, fresh and inventive primary and secondary characters, and a wealth of off-beat cameos—Amber Valletta, Joe Unitas (son of NFL great Johnny Unitas), Tony Hawk, Little Romeo, and several members of the cast of Malcolm in the Middle—indicate this production staff is out to break the kiddie picture mold. I mean how often do you see a school bully whose Achilles' heel is a morbid fear of a Barney-esque children's show Frog, or a Wall Street whiz kid who steals milk money to fuel his investment portfolio. Even Max's parents are unique. Dad is an advertising executive who creates and wears costumes for all his character creations, while Mom is a Martha Stewart wannabe who just finished decorating her dream kitchen and is now faced with the fact she will have to decorate a whole new house. It's been a long time since I've seen this much character detail put into a script for a kid's movie.
Director Tim Hill does an exceptional job of making this story work on a number of levels. While Max and friends deal with their crises, the adult characters are given their own fully fleshed out conflicts. The storylines weave in and out on a collision course that leaves everyone changed. Then again, the film does have its share of food fights, fart jokes, and teen angst. Even still, the story is highly accessible to kids and adults alike.
From a performance perspective, the jury is mixed. Alex D. Linz (Cable Guy, One Fine Day) is effective as Max, but doesn't really plumb the depths or nuances of the character. (Did I really say that?) Josh Peck (Snow Day) and Zena Gray (Summer Catch) as Robe and Megan form a great team with Max and play off each other quite well. Noel Fisher and Orlando Brown as the two bullies are hilarious, thankfully giving us characters we haven't seen a million times before. SNL alum Nora Dunn and Disney sitcom dad Robert Carradine (Revenge of the Nerds) are very good as Max's neurotic parents. Unfortunately, they don't have enough screen time to develop beyond their initial description. However, stand-up king Larry Miller as Jindraike and Amy Hill as his secretary Mrs. Rangoon constantly steal focus with their ridiculous schemes. Finally, Jamie Kennedy rounds out the cast as a whacked out ice cream dude who, while mildly amusing, doesn't really seem to belong in this picture.
While the performances may have been uneven, the physical evidence for this presentation is staggering. Innovative animated menus, the likes of which put more deserving films to shame (see Real Genius), combined with a bounty of extras are sure to impress. The transfer, as one might expect from a new film, is impeccable, with one exception—standard 1.33:1 full frame? Why bastardize any film by giving it the pan and scan treatment? Have we not grown beyond this VHS ploy? Apparently not—but I digress. The Dolby 5.1 audio is always applauded and well served by a great soundtrack featuring Sugarcult, Bowling for Soup, and Groove Armada, as well as Michael Wandmacher's very cool score.
On the extras front, Disney has done another fine job. A feature commentary by Director Tim Hill, Producer Mike Karz, and actors Alex D. Linz, Larry Miller, and Jamie Kennedy was a nice idea, but falls short on the execution. The word torturous comes to mind. Save yourself and skip it. A short featurette on Alex D. Linz and the making of the film is cute and the kids will love it. Two games—a set top puzzler escorts the viewer through the halls of school in search of hidden items, while a DVD-ROM game puts you on the front lines of the ultimate cafeteria food fight. Both fun and worth a look. Finally, a multitude of trailers gives you a sneak peek at Disney's upcoming theatrical and DVD/Video releases. All in all, a very nice package.
While Max Keeble's Big Move will never be compared with kid classics like The Goonies or Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory, it is commended for breaking new ground and bringing innovative characters to a long abused genre. If you have kids between the ages of 8 and 12, they'll love it. Go ahead and add it to your collection. Any older or younger and you may get away with a rental, but don't bet on it. Adults, don't be afraid of this one. It's not at all painful—at least through the first or second viewing. Any more than that and I wash my hands of recommendation responsibility.
This court dismisses any and all charges of misconduct against Max Keeble's Big Move and encourages Disney to continue pursuing inventive filmmaking for kids and families. Just keep it in widescreen format, okay? This court now stands in recess.
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• Feature Commentary by Director Tim Hill, Producer Mike Karz, and actors Alex Linz, Jamie Kennedy, and Larry Miller
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