Thursday, August 24, 2006

How to Eat Fried Worms (review)

Long before “gross-out” became a regular descriptor for certain juvenile movies aimed at adult audiences (see: the Farrelly brothers), middle-school readers and their younger siblings were regularly, willingly repulsed by Thomas Rockwell’s popular How to Eat Fried Worms.

More than three decades after it publication, in 1973, and following a mostly forgotten 1985 animated version made for television, Rockwell’s book has come to theaters.

Although long overdue, it has made an impressive transition from page to screen. Worms is a funny little movie about bravery, peer pressure and friendship, told in a manner that’s sure to appeal to young audiences. In a bonus for parents and other chaperones, it’s nicely quirky, devoid of sentimentality and surprisingly well acted.

Partisans of the book, penned by the son of all-American painter Norman Rockwell, might take issue with the slight redesign: Billy (Luke Benward) agrees to eat 10 worms in a day, rather than 15 worms in 15 days, as in the original; the ice cream worm cake, sadly, doesn’t figure into the movie; and few of the characters remain intact.

Everyone else, though, could warm to the story, centered on the cruelty and kindness experienced by Billy when he and his parents (Thomas Cavanagh, Kimberly Williams) and annoyingly cute preschooler Woody (Ty Panitz) relocate to a new city.

Nice girl Erika (Hallie Kate Eisenberg) offers a helping hand at middle school. But most of Billy’s male classmates, led by bully Joe (Adam Hicks) are eager to harass and humiliate the new kid. That’s where the worms come in: On his first day at school, Billy is startled to discover that his thermos bottle is filled with the creepy crawlies. Soon, he’s dubbed Worm Boy and he falls into a foolish bet with tough-guy Joe: Billy must down 10 worms in one day. The loser faces an even more agonizing trial.

That’s it for plot complications. And yet filmmaker Bob Dolman (The Banger Sisters) keeps things lively as the boys, including misfit Adam (New Port Richey native Austin Rogers) watch Billy endure a variety of worm-based delicacies. Caution: Avoid eating spaghetti before or after watching Worms.

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