Directed by: Bob Dolman
Starring: Luke Benward, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Adam Hicks, Austin Rogers
At one point in Don Mancini's Seed of Chucky (2004), Jennifer Tilly's personal assistant warns her that she'll go to hell if she sleeps with a director to get a part, whereupon Miss Tilly counters, "Hell would be ending up on Celebrity Fear Factor in a worm-eating contest with Anna Nicole Smith." Bob Dolman's How to Eat Fried Worms pretty nearly qualifies as the pre-pubescent version of that idea. It's also one of the most amateurish essays in excruciating tedium I've encountered in a year that's hardly lacked for tedium.
The film is based on a 1972 children's book of the same name by Thomas Rockwell (son of painter Norman Rockwell). The word "classic" has been attached to the literary original -- whether truly earned, or simply because the book was taken up by teachers as required reading for their young charges, I can't say. If this film version is any indication of the book's actual quality, I lean toward the latter classification.
Put simply, it's exactly the kind of story one might expect from the son of Norman Rockwell -- an image of childhood with a very tenuous relation to reality. It's a view of childhood that comforts adults, and is given a pseudo-edgy hook for the kids in the gross-out value of its worm-eating premise. That alone may put the concept over with boys in the 7-to-10-year-old age range, but it's hardly enough to support a feature length film -- especially this feature length film.
The premise has unhappy new-kid-in-school Billy (Luke Benward, Because of Winn-Dixie) earning the wrath of school bully Joe (Adam Hicks, The Shaggy Dog), which results in the wiggler-ingesting amusement of the title. Billy unwisely claims to love eating worms, and is goaded into betting that he can eat 10 of the things. For maximum gross-out value, the worms are prepared in various repellent ways by Joe's decidedly sub-James Beard toadies. Although the film thinks there's more to it than this -- it's supposed to be a tale about the evils of bullies and how bullies are created -- that's really about all there is to it.
Adults are reduced to a parade of imbecilic caricatures, serving little function beyond padding the movie to feature length. It doesn't help matters that Worms' adult cast consists entirely of what can be charitably called B-list actors. The performances are all broad and more suited to TV sketch comedy than a movie.
Screenwriter-director Bob Dolman loads the film with bogus energy and a seemingly endless array of bland and uninteresting imagery, which he smothers in an annoying musical score by Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh. There may be a built-in audience for Worms, though I suspect that it will score mostly with school groups and kids out for a little extra credit. Even they may find it alarmingly cheap and cheesy -- and worst of all, dull. Rated PG for mild bullying and some crude humor.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke