Max Keeble's Big Move

(Tim Hill, USA, 2001)


The splendid working title of this film – Seventh Grade Heart Attack – indicates its true position within the array of pop genres.

It is a pre-teen movie that replaces the usual sex and anarchy of youth stories with a more innocent fixation on food fights, bicycle rides, cute animals and puppy love. Sadly, this is a niche market that receives very little attention from critics or general audiences.

The big move on which this tale hinges is merely something announced and anticipated for most of the film. Max (Alex D. Linz) learns from his parents that the family is soon to move to another state. This gives him a new sense of lawless freedom, especially in relation to the school bullies and fascistic Principal Jindraike (Larry Miller), since he knows he can skip town and evade the consequences of his actions.

From the moment that Max awakens from the fanciful dream that begins the film and gets up to face the day, director Tim Hill (Muppets From Space, 1999) plunges us into the familiar pre-teen landscape. We meet his best friends, Megan (Zena Grey) and Robe (Josh Peck), observe his classes and teachers, and glimpse the rituals of his home life.

The humour of the film is uneven and sometimes uncertainly pitched. Bulls-eyes – such as the moment when Jindraike slithers onto stage to lead a school assembly, with the institutional motto "Pride, Tradition, Excellence" emblazoned in the background – alternate with many flat moments of mugged slapstick.

The odd assortment of different ages – Max pines for a blonde bombshell several grades up, and gets a helping hand from a pair of burly Eastern European students who look like they are in their twenties – adds a touch of surrealism.

Typical of this kind of movie is the neat parody of adult types – such as the young "suit" who, by the age of twelve, has already crashed and burned on the stock market – and the references to kiddie culture, such as a monstrous figure named McGoogle the Highland Frog who haunts the memory of delinquent Troy (Noel Fisher).

Even more curious is the film's tendency to echo other recent movie successes, but in a suitably toned-down fashion. Students practising wind instruments evoke the American Pie series, but without the lewd pay-off; the spectacle of Jindraike being chased down the street by a horde of animals recalls the same actor's erotic humiliations at the hands of a giant hamster in Nutty Professor II (2000).

Predictably, the jokes eventually give way to a touching little lesson for Max about personal responsibility and loyalty. But not before a gem of a scene in which an English teacher asks her class for examples of verbs and receives a pair of hyper-intense answers from Megan and Robe – "to lie, betray, deceive" topped by "to screw over, stab in the back!"

MORE pre-teen movies: BMX Bandits, Spy Kids, Spy Kids 3D: Game Over

© Adrian Martin January 2002

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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