What do a birthday cake frosted by a 3-year-old, a 25-year-old pavement job that was contracted out to the lowest bidder, and a lawn mowed at two in the morning have in common? They’re all likely to be uneven and sloppy. Much the same can be said about Max Keeble’s Big Move.
Part sitcom, part slapstick, part situational ethics manifesto, Big Move hurls moviegoers into the wacky world of savvy seventh grader Max Keeble. Not that his smarts have been too helpful. No matter which way he turns, torment lurks for Max. His old friend Troy has become a leather-clad bully who scrawls the name of his daily victim on his T-shirt. Former millionaire investor (at the age of 10 he cleaned up; at 12, he’s washed up) Dobbs steals students’ lunch money and charges them for using the restroom. Max’s teachers are either slinky supermodels or shrewish disciplinarians. And then there’s scheming Principal Jindraike, who sees his students as nothing more than rungs “on the ladder to my success.”
Fed up with being pounded by bullies and unfairly punished by the principal, Max devises the perfect plan: sabotage the school with enough Home Alone-style to make Macaulay Culkin cry, then take advantage of his family’s move to Chicago to escape the consequences. He enlists the help of his best friends Megan and Robe (so named for his favorite outerwear) to sow mischief. But he’s on his own in his attempt to win the heart of Britney Spears clone Jenna (theme music included). Naturally, Max’s carefully crafted scheme falls apart when he discovers at the last minute that the big move which everything hung on won’t take place after all.
positive elements: Max wants to thwart Principal Jindraike’s self-centered plans to obliterate an animal shelter and swindle the school’s faculty and staff so he can get a promotion. The injustice of teachers, Max’s father’s spinelessness with his boss, and the cruelty of bullies are all painted in a bad light. The friendship between Max, Megan and Robe gets held up as a precious ideal. Despite the fact that they all lack popularity, the three hang together through thick and thin. Max saves Robe when he gets locked in a display case by a bully. Megan and Robe hang around Max even after he takes a bully-induced dumpster dive. [Spoiler Warning] Even though Max deserts them on his “last day in town” to dance the night away with nymphet Jenna, his friends come to his aid when Troy and Dobbs threaten to send him to the hospital. The budding romance between Max and Megan is portrayed as more genuine than the flighty affection Jenna offers.
sexual content: Not only does the tune “… Baby One More Time” pop up whenever Jenna appears, but the sultry ninth-grader seems determined to replicate Britney Spears’ skin-tight attire. Camera work and scene setups reduce her to a fashion-plate sex object. She only falls for Max after he begins his destructive mischief. A comely science teacher lectures her class about pheromones, much to Robe and the rest of the boys’ delight. Sabotaging Principal Jindraike’s daily video broadcast to the school, Max arranges for the words, “I’m wearing a thong” to appear behind him.
violent content: Hong Kong kung fu action meets Malcolm in the Middle. It’s one big fast-action, slapstick cartoon. The film opens with an extended dream sequence wherein the Evil Ice Cream Man tries to blast Max off his bike with ice cream scoops shot out of a giant truck mounted “cone-gun.” They rampage through the streets in a frenetic chase before battling it out hand to hand. Max strikes the Ice Cream Man in the crotch with a newspaper, then blasts him 20 feet in the air with a The Matrix-worthy chop.
Though we never actually see bullies hit their victims, they use physical intimidation to full effect: Max gets thrown into a mud puddle and it’s implied that he’s chucked into a dumpster. When the Evil Ice Cream Man harasses Max on his paper route in real life, Max hurls a paper at his head. Max then pits Dobbs against the Evil Ice Cream Man, a confrontation that ends with Max using a crane to seize the ice cream truck and dump hundreds of gallons of melted ice cream over both of them. During his grand retaliation spree, Max starts an all-out food fight in the school cafeteria. After having his ever-present breath spray spiked with stolen pheromones, Principal Jindraike gets attacked by a squirrel that crawls down his pants and bites his crotch. He’s also chased by a raging stampede of animals that loves his pheromone breath.
crude or profane language: No profanity. Just rude expressions. A girl calls the Evil Ice Cream Man a “fart-knocker.” After learning about his family’s impending move, Max yells at his parents, “This bites.” During the food fight, he and Robe make a mustard spraying machine out of a tuba and leaf blower, then declare, “Let me tell you something about this school: It blows!”
drug and alcohol content: None.
conclusion: Max Keeble’s Big Move represents junior high about as much as MTV’s The Real World represents, well, the real world. Not that it’s supposed to. Still, this isn’t even close to fair. Constant excitement. Passionate romance. No homework, ever. Uprisings by students. And a place where children parent their mothers and fathers. The most troubling element here isn’t violence or crude language, but the film’s blurred ethics. Most of the adults in Max’s life are either passive fixtures, idiotic dweebs or unjust dictators. Principal Jindraike marches around shouting, “You there! Cease! Do you think this is a fun place?” He even knocks a student’s books onto the floor. Max comes late to class after being unceremoniously dunked in a toilet by Troy and Dobbs and gets reprimanded by his teacher. “You’re tardy and dripping,” she snaps. “I have rules against both. Without rules, society will collapse.” In the real world, Max would have told his parents about his teacher’s unfairness and they would have called a conference. But since his mom’s obsessed with being the perfect interior decorator and his dad prances around in a lobster suit all day, that’s not an option for Max. So he decides that the “rules” have to end.
After kicking the aforementioned teacher’s globe off of her desk and cutting her telephone cord so she can’t call the principal, he wreaks havoc for the next hour of the film under the guise of “justice.” According to this logic, the fact that Jindraike is a cheating jerk warrants breaking and entering, destruction of property, theft, assault and all sorts of malicious pranks.
Max does experience a change of heart after discovering that he’ll have to face the music for all the damage he’s done. He quickly decides to take the school janitor’s advice: “Any kid can make a mess. It takes a man to clean it up.” But what does his “cleaning up” involve? Confessing his culpability for the pranks and openly battling the evil principal instead of fighting covertly. Hardly a sanctified change of heart. In apologizing to the janitor, he rationalizes, “I’m really sorry about the cafeteria, but Jindraike can’t get away with what he’s doing.” When Troy and Dobbs find themselves dangled over dumpsters by a pair of burly football players, ready to get their comeuppance, Max intercedes for them. “We’re no better than the bullies if we do what they do,” he pleads. When the question comes, “What should we do then?” Max shrugs, “Let them go.” In accordance with his wishes (wink, wink), the bullies find themselves “released” into the refuse.