- The Washington Times - Friday, October 5, 2001

Every movie opening this weekend seems to exemplify a genre whose shabbiness defies concealment or improvement. In the case of "Max Keeble's Big Move," juvenile farce of gross, lewd and anarchic persuasions is the repeat offender.
A Disney contrivance, "Keeble" also poaches ineptly on the most dubious of John Hughes' high school comedies of the 1980s, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." That was a celebration of a teen-age wiseguy and slick operator, portrayed by Matthew Broderick in his preppie period. Attempting to champion a comparable smugness and resourcefulness at the middle school level, "Keeble" revolves around an 11-year-old boy (Alex D. Linz) who is subjected to extravagant slapstick abuse on his first day of school.
A bully named Troy McGinty, who advertises himself shamelessly and enjoys carte blanche in the halls and playgrounds, submerges Max in a mud puddle, covers him in sawdust and then tosses him into a trash receptacle. Max, trailing shreds of spaghetti and other refuse, staggers into a school assembly and arouses only movie-farce curiosity; in other words, the other youngsters flinch at his stench.
Before this bad day, a prologue supposed to be Max's nightmare clues us in on a neighborhood nemesis, a snarling ice-cream vendor (Jamie Kennedy) who evidently lives to pursue Max on his paper route. Troy the bully is the first in a parade of waking nemeses that includes the hostile ice-cream man. There's also an officious ninth-grader named Dobbs who likes to think of himself as an investment broker and extorts pocket money from younger students.
Corruption may trickle down from the top: Larry Miller plays an absurdly tyrannical principal. The school official's delusion of glory is a new football stadium with a seating capacity that would dwarf that of any known high school field.
"Keeble" seems to be overstocked with nemeses. Max, who has a couple of close friends clarinet-playing Megan (Zena Grey) and porky Ro (Josh Peck), who wears his bathrobe to school vows to mount a campaign of reprisals upon learning that his ditsy parents (Robert Carradine and Nora Dunn) suddenly plan to move at the end of the week. Max reasons that his adversaries will have little or no time for counterreprisals.
Operation Payback involves considerable after-hours sabotage of the targets; for example, Mr. Miller's office has to be rigged to make him look even more ridiculous when making daily announcements to the student body.
The retaliation seems so successful that Max comes to be regarded as a pretty cool dude. Even a ninth-grade temptress named Jenna makes moves on him.
Evidently, Max has triumphed so decisively that it's pointless for him to move out of town. The filmmakers insist that clueless Mom and Dad pull a switch they won't be moving after all.
In theory, Max faces a new and conclusive crisis. He has to withstand an onslaught by enemies who think they may have him to kick around indefinitely. Needless to say, the showdown is a foregone conclusion.
The movie achieves its stylistic apotheosis when Max triggers a gigantic food fight in the cafeteria and humiliates the principal when he arrives with a distinguished guest.
For good measure, Mr. Miller pretends to succumb to a sort of oblique sexual assault by a chimp, one of the inmates at a nearby animal shelter threatened with eviction if a palace of sport is approved.
I suppose there's an audience for "Max Keeble," but one hates to think that 11- to 14-year-olds are this desperate for moronic hilarity.

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