Max Keeble's Big Move
review by Gianni Truzzi, 5 October 2001
The world that Max Keeble, a
seventh-grader in his first week at Curtis Junior High, inhabits is
a far distance from the rural idylls of the old Our Gang two-reelers.
The explosive opening typifies the kind of over-the-top
precociousness granted to suburban twelve-year-olds as Max (Alex D.
Linz) battles the evil ice-cream-man (Jamie Kennedy), as if James
Bond drove a BMX mountain bike instead of an Aston Martin. But just
as we despair that we are to be subjected to ninety minutes of
pandering wish-fulfillment, Max wakes up in his bed. This was just
Max's fantasy -- the kind we all had as children but would never
Yet Max's world is no more
realistic than the idealized innocence of Spanky and his friends.
Truer to our times, it functions within the jaundiced facetiousness
of Malcolm in the Middle. His father (Revenge of the Nerds'
Robert Carradine), suffers daily humiliation from the boss, forced
to dress up as a lobster or a large slice of cheese, while his
mother (Saturday Night Live alumnus Nora Dunn) is a Martha
Stewart junkie. Like any kid on his first day at a new school, Max
wants to be thought "cool." His friends, however, definitely aren't.
Natalie (Zena Grey) is a diligent student who plays the clarinet,
and Robert (Josh Peck) is an iconoclastic, smooth-faced Abe Vigoda
look-alike who wears a bathrobe over his clothes (hence his
nickname, "Robe") and "smells like diapers."
Max dreams of Jenna, the pretty and
popular ninth-grader, but he's a perfect puny target for the school
bullies that reign in the halls. Unlike the surly louts of the real
world, Curtis Jr. High's bullies are dastardly evildoers that would
feel at home in an action-hero comic book. Troy McKenzie arrives at
school each day with the name of his intended victim on his shirt,
determined to administer the "world-wide-wedge" to every frail
student. Another, a double-breasted young Michael Milken, steals
other kids' lunch money masked by the euphemism of ”investment."
What would a kid flick be without a
sociopath principal? Mr. Jindraike (Larry Miller, of Best In Show)
is an ambitious, amoral buffoon, determined to impress the
superintendent. with a winning football team of hyper-pituitaried
Eastern European "exchange students." Furthermore, the new football
stadium threatens an animal shelter (what else?) where Max
Max's trials are interrupted when
he learns that his father has a sudden job change, and that they are
moving. A new school in a new town means the rare chance to wreak
vengeance on everyone who did him wrong before he leaves. After all,
he won't be around to suffer retribution -- or will he?
Despite a lunacy that teeters on
expressionism, what Max Keeble draws on most is the popular
television series of the 1980's, The Wonder Years. Linz is a
fair copy of Fred Savage (small, smart and handsome, the kid has a
future), and he and his friends present the same boy-girl-nerd
triangle. What's missing is the humanity of the adults that made
Wonder Years so special. Except in a couple of rote scenes
between Max and his father, the grown-ups are all cartoons.
Yet Keeble's flippancy is
redeemed by its core of issues that pre-teens genuinely face: the
desire to be accepted or popular, and facing the consequences of
your actions. The film doesn't run from or hide its moralistic
message, but the absurdity is an effective lubricant. Moreover, the
antics of Max and his friends are, with some exception, within the
bounds of what a child can do. One might object that a
twelve-year-old isn't likely to know how to operate heavy machinery
or ride an ostrich, but at least they don't become miniature
paramilitary Schwarzeneggers. Keeble uses its license, but it
doesn't shred it.
Better films than Keeble
have been made on these themes, most notably 1980's My Bodyguard.
But the bitter truth is that today's kids watch Malcolm In The
Middle or The Simpsons (whether they're meant to or not),
and are comfortable with their knowing irony. Hal Roach's precocious
child actors wouldn't know how to function within the world of the
Recess cartoons where Ferris Bueller bravado has
seeped down to the grade school set. Max Keeble is a good kid, a
sound influence and someone with whom parents can feel comfortable
letting their middle-school children while away an afternoon.
Alex D. Linz
Brooke Anne Smith
R - Restricted
Under 17 requires
or adult guardian..