How to Eat Fried Worms is a Questionable Concoction
- Thursday, August 24, 2006
DVD Release Date: December 5, 2006
Theatrical Release Date: August 25, 2006
Rating: PG (for mild bullying and some crude humor)
Run Time: 94 min.
Director: Bob Dolman
Actors: Luke Benward, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Tom Cavanaugh, Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Adam Hicks, Ty Panitz, James Rebhorn, Andrea Martin
Fried worms? Ewwwww!
Who'd want to eat one fried worm, much less several? The very idea is gross. Or once was, back in 1973, when Thomas Rockwell's novel, How to Eat Fried Worms, first hit the shelves.
The book went on to sell more than 3 million copies to youngsters captivated by those periodic books-for-sale flyers distributed to elementary-school students across America (your humble movie reviewer was a highly susceptible target, who, decades later, can still picture the cover of his own copy of Rockwell's paperback). Among shelves filled with Mad Libs and Choose Your Own Adventure books, How to Eat Fried Worms, stood out as the crown jewel of any young boy's book collection.
Times have changed. In a world of Survivor "immunity challenges," raunchy music aimed at "tweens," and parents who push their kids to excel in academics and sports from the earliest ages, the ingestion of fried worms represents a throwback to an earlier, more quaint era. Walden Media's production of the Rockwell book captures much of the book's gross-out appeal, but pedestrian direction and a flat TV-movie quality will be evident to parents and other moviegoers tagging along with those in the target demo for this production.
Luke Benward stars as Billy, the new kid in his fifth-grade class, who runs afoul of school bully Joe (Adam Hicks) and his motley crew of subordinates. When Joe and his gang replace Billy's lunch with a thermos-full of worms, the boys brand Billy as "worm boy" and taunt him until, in a moment of pique, Billy insists to Joe that he can eat 10 worms in one day.
Though he instantly regrets the dare, Billy is forced to follow through on the bet. He finds some solace from Erika (Hallie Kate Eisenberg), who admires Billy's willingness to stand up to Joe, as well as from a growing number of students who, inspired by Billy's chutzpah, align themselves with him in opposition to Joe.
Young actors are front and center throughout "Fried Worms," and although Benward, Eisenberg and Hicks give it their all, they are surrounded by a young cast that isn't in the same league. Director Bob Dolman further tests audiences with a cinematic presentation lacking in flair and visual grace, employing the Cinemascope aspect ratio (approximately 2.35:1) to no effect. The filmmaker offers mostly static shots of talking heads, edited together in sometimes jarring fashion.
It's enough to make one long for the subdued direction of Wayne Wang - even at his least interesting - in Because of Winn-Dixie and the lively visuals captured by director Andrew Davis for "Holes." Those two modestly budgeted literary adaptations from Walden (the company's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe had a much larger budget) succeeded largely because of graceful and amusing performances from well-known adult cast members - Jon Voight and Sigourney Weaver in Holes, Cicely Tyson and Eva Marie Saint in Winn-Dixie - who added cinematic gravitas to casts filled with unknown youngsters.
How to Eat Fried Worms falls back on Tom Cavanaugh and Kimberly Williams-Paisley - friendly faces from TV given few lines and limited screen time. Small roles for enjoyable character actors James Rebhorn as the school principal and Andrea Martin as Billy's teacher would be more satisfying if the adult actors weren't made to look like fools in the kids' eyes.
None of this will concern the younger circuit, who will identify with Billy and enjoy watching him outsmart his domineering opponent. By standing up to Joe, Billy helps other students find the courage to do the same. A further lesson about honesty leads to an enjoyable wrap-up that makes the movie's uneven quality go down a little easier. How to Eat Fried Worms is not a cinematic delicacy by any means, but neither is it difficult to digest. Like a decent fast-food meal, it's bound to please kids but leave adults thinking about their next entrée.
- Language/Profanity: Some name-calling, along the lines of "worm boy"; a reference to a worm's sphincter; a boy explains that a "dilly dink" refers to his penis
- Drugs/Alcohol: None.
- Sex/Nudity: None.
- Violence: Bullying; vomiting; boys discuss the legend of a bully's "death ring" that causes those whom the bully punches to die once they reach the 8th grade; a boy shoves another boy down; a boy wishes his brother were "dead, dead, dead"; a hose is sprayed in a boy's face; a tennis racquet to the face; destructive behavior at an arcade.
- Gross-out Humor: The film is anchored by several scenes of worms being cooked and eaten, tossed at others, spit out, squished under a roller pin and scraped off … you get the idea.
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