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 admit to.

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 volunteers.

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.

Directed by:
Tim Hill

Zena Grey
Alex D. Linz
Larry Miller
Brooke Anne Smith

Written by:
Jonathan Bernstein
Mark Blackwell
James Greer

R - Restricted
Under 17 requires
accompanying parent
or adult guardian..




  Copyright © 1996-2005 by Nitrate Productions, Inc. All Rights Reserved.