The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
Written. Jeff Stockwell, Michael Petroni, Chris
Directed. Peter Care
Starring. Kieran Culkin, Jena Malone, Emile Hirsh,
Vincent D'Onofrio, Jodie Foster
Animation Sequences: Todd McFarlane
Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys is really nothing more
than a cleverly disguised, two-hour advertisement for Botox.
Don't believe me? Consider the following.
· Jena Malone makes an effortless switch from playing
a nubile girl of seventeen (in Donnie Darko) to a
nubile girl of thirteen
I guess the slogan is true:
'You're Never Too Young For BOTOX!'
· Additionally, Jodie Foster, who has always provided
some of the most emotionally charged performances, plays
Sister Assumpta as simple, quiet and determined. She seems
to have developed some strange speech impediment that makes
her almost sound Irish, she hardly moves a single muscle
in her face and, on top of all that, she looks younger than
she did in Little Man Tate. All signs point to BOTOX!
· Not to mention that those Hollywood fat cats want
us to believe that Macaulay Culkin's younger brother Kieran
stars as Tim Sullivan. But it doesn't take a genius to realize
that all we're looking at is Macaulay, himself, coke addled
and drunk, dressed up like a catholic boy and BOTOXED enough
to make him look ten years younger, and slightly less of
a crack-head. Very clever, BOTOX, but this film critic is
onto your schemes.
· And who is there to deny that Vincent D'Onofrio
didn't grow that beard because of a terrible BOTOX accident,
I hear it can cause some pretty nasty bruises if it doesn't
take to your face too well. I rest my case.
However, in spite of the product placement and blatant
advertising, Botox has managed to produce a gosh darn fine
The two things that shine brightest in this movie are the
writing and the acting. Emile Hirsh as Francis Doyle makes
an astounding film debut with a complex, difficult role
that he plays deftly. Culkin puts his older brother to shame,
finally proving that there is some talent in the family
after all, and Jena Malone is superb in what might be the
most difficult roles she'll play in a very long time. The
fact that these are all relatively young actors working
with a cast almost entirely comprised of children is what
really blows me away. The adult presence in the movie is
entirely background noise, as it should be in a movie told
from the point of view of adolescents, but this would not
have worked if it weren't for these three performances.
The writing, for the most part, is equally amazing. Almost
every scene is completely true to life. It is all very believable,
nothing feels forced or over the top. The nature of teaching
junior high school, for example, is presented with such
honesty. Sister Assumpta (Foster), as the teacher who cares
about these children and truly worries about them, is completely
ineffectual and villianized by her students. Whereas Father
Casey (D'Onofrio) doesn't really give two rats' asses about
these kids, and he's the one whom they trust and try to
confide in. This dilemma is never really spoken of, but
it is very apparent. And it is something that I, and probably
us all, can relate to with our own junior high experiences.
The nature of a best friendship is also very honest. The
level of trust and loyalty that exists in such a pact is
vibrant and clear throughout this movie. How quickly it
can be shattered, but also how easily mended. Everything
is simple, straightforward, and true. Yet you still know
that the story is told from the point of view of an adolescent
with a very wild and vivid imagination. It is very seldom
that an adult can write a child's mind without sounding
surreal and condescending. Jeff Stockwell and Michael Petroni
achieved this in spades, thanks in great part to the terrific
vision of novelist Chris Fuhrman.
Todd McFarlane provides some very cool animation sequences
that are supposed to reflect the imaginings of Francis.
These sequences pepper the tenser moments and manage to
lighten the mood of some dark moments while deepening the
overall feel of the scene. The humor, which is very original,
is likewise paced throughout the movie with obvious intention.
Without these two elements, the movie would be a stagnant
coming of age story, but with them the movie actually becomes
There is a relatively large cast of incidental characters
and, as a further credit to the writing, the first few lines
that any of these characters speak are so telling of their
personality, that they lose their two dimensionality almost
immediately. And while you never really get to know any
of them deeply, you get a very real feeling of the lives
and the atmosphere that surrounds the two boys.
The opening sequence to The Dangerous Lives of Alter Boys
is fabulous. It does just about everything right. The audience
is immediately pulled into the world of these boys, we understand
the bond of trust between the two, and we realize exactly
how reckless adolescent boys are. The title and credit sequence
is also superb. This may be the best opening five minutes
of any movie this year. The only problem is that once they
are over, the movie has to struggle to maintain that level
And while the effort is undeniable, it is also very obvious.
While the writing is one of the aspects of this movie that
stands out and carries it along, some of the dialogue comes
across as terribly forced.
"Jesus H. Christ" Father Casey says when hit with
a soccer ball.
"What does the H stand for, Father?" Tim rebuffs
Ba-Dum Ching! Thank you folks
we're here all week!
But it really gets schlocky during the scenes between Francis
And while nothing can ever compare to the turgid wave of
bile filled nausea that the Attack Of the Clones'
"I hate Sand" speech gave me, you can see poor
Emile Hirsch almost crack up as he tries to deliver: "When
I look at you I can hardly breathe."
In fact, the whole love affair between the two teenagers
seems completely unnecessary for any of the rest of the
plot. Most of the romance is well delivered, but it falls
short as a side story of its own, and does nothing to bolster
the central story, the friendship between Tim and Francis.
While the incidental characters are terrific, the supporting
characters are somewhat vague and never climb out of their
two dimensional shells. Francis and Tim's two cohorts hardly
have any role in the movie at all, and yet they are supposed
to be the other half of a tight quartet of friends. The
two adults of any significance in the movie, Sister Assumpta
and Father Casey, have one or two very nice scenes, but
they never become as real to us as Francis and Tim. Better
to leave the rest of the cast as incidentals, and let the
leads pull the movie themselves. The rest of the cast seems
to only get in the way.
Gore: Two ex-vice-presidents
Much like in real life, there is very little gore or violence
or tension in the movie, but when it comes, it is amazingly
powerful, and all the more disturbing.
Acting: three Tatum O'Neal's
It's so hard to find kids who can act. So few can act well,
which is why I'm terrified of Project Greenlight. But Culkin
and Hirsch, as well as the rest of the uniformly young cast
did a splendid job. No one's getting nominated for anything
in this thing, but Haley Joel Osment hasn't got a candle
to hold to these alter boys.
Homoeroticism: One guffawing Truman Capote
One would expect a movie called something something something
ALTAR BOYS to be filled with tons of outdated jokes and
leering priests. Or worse even, a subtle nudge and quite
diatribe on certain current affairs. Luckily there is neither.
Aside from a thrown away "Are you checking out my ass."
Between altar boys, and some pointedly funny comments about
the superhero Major Screw, there's nothing. You do get to
see two hot young teens mud-wrestle though, so it's not
a total wash.
Overall Feeling of Goodness: Three Catholic Highschool
When it comes down to it, the pros out weigh the cons by
a long shot. This is a clever well-written well-acted well-directed
movie that is definitely worth your time. It manages to
cover the entire gambit of emotions without being trite
or cheesy about it.
Finally, I know I already said it's probably the best opening
to a movie all year, but I have to give The Dangerous Lives
of Altar Boys one more award. This movie has the best use
of a ransom note ever; the audience was cracking up for
a full ten minutes over this one ridiculous prop.
Since I'm giving awards out (the Oscars are only eight
months away, after all) I figure I should come up with a
name for them. I'm thinking the WE-BERGIE's (that's What
Edward Believes is Excellent, Righteous, Grand and Ingenious
in Entertainment). But that's a tad ego-centric I suppose,
so, if anyone wants to try and come up with a name for the
official Free Williamsburg Movie Awards, e-mail me some
For the time being, though. I'd like to officially present
two Golden Hipsters to The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys
for Best Opening and Credit Sequence, and Coolest Use of
a Ransom Note in Cinema