What is it about Max Keeble (Alex D. Linz) that attracts such overwhelmingly bad karma? On his paper route, he has a running battle with the Evil Ice Cream Man (Jamie Kennedy). Whenever they meet, they violate every traffic law in town, not to mention that little old felony--attempted murder. At school, bullies tar and feather him, dump garbage on him, and take his lunch money. Teachers arbitrarily assign him 8,000-word essays. And Principal Jindraike (Larry Miller, in his worst case of overacting to date) yanks him around as if he were a punching bag. Child abuse is not only tolerated on campus, but regularly practiced.

Max himself is an ordinary guy with a minimum of charisma, as Linz plays him. His home life is geared for laughs. Mom (Nora Dunn) is mildly obsessive, but at least the house is clean. Dad (Robert Carradine) works for an ad agency that forces him to dress up in funny costumes--a lobster one day, a big piece of cheese the next. This gives Max and Mom, if not the audience, occasion for merriment.

Obviously, the point of Max Keeble's Big Move is that a boy can be perfectly normal and still suffer the torments of the damned, because every high school contains its quota of sadists. Even so, Max experiences an appalling variety of tortures without any hope of redress until his father announces that the family is moving to Chicago. Max realizes he can get revenge and, before the bullies can respond, get out of town!

Together with his nerdy chum Robe (Josh Peck), a fat boy who always wears a bathrobe, and Megan (Zena Grey), a charmer afraid of losing Max to Jenna (Brooke Anne Smith), a sophisticated ninth-grader, Max dreams up a series of not terribly credible schemes that are designed to quadruple the pain the bullies have caused him. He puts his plans into effect with the help of the entire student body. Alas, missing from Max Keeble's Big Move is the crucial scene in which the student body agrees to unite against all meanies.

The squeaky clean 'Kodak look' of Arthur Albert's photography backfires when people are captured rolling around in swill, a frequent event as Tim Hill's uninspired direction is reduced to copies of pie-throwing fights stolen from silent comedies far superior to this hyperactive mess. It is not just a matter of hackneyed humor and routine staging. Parents and school administrators may justifiably resent the scene where Max and buddies break into the principal's office at night. What kind of example is being set here?

Bogged down with the current clichs of prepubescent comedy--food fights, feeble satires of kung-fu films, people 'exposed' on the intra-school TV channel, overly precious animals, inevitable triumph of the underdogs--Max Keeble's Big Move is likely to depress not merely the young, but the young at heart.

--Bruce Feld