Billy (Luke Benward) is a perpetually queasy kid nervous about attending a new school in a new town. On his first day, bully Joe (Adam Hicks) and his subordinates fill Billy's thermos with slimy worms as a prank, triggering Billy to accept a bet where he must eat 10 worms in a single day to help clear his name. Now faced with this impossible task, he scrambles with the other school outsiders (including former "Pepsi Girl," Hallie Kate Eisenberg) to prepare his stomach for the war ahead.
"How to Eat Fried Worms" is pretty much the "Da Vinci Code" of children gross-out books. The 1973 best seller from author Thomas Rockwell comes to the big screen suffering some curious and extensive plot changes, but the idea is still there: to make audiences go "ewww."
In 'roiding up a narrative to fit the big screen, writer/director Bob Dolman ("SCTV," and director of "The Banger Sisters") has imagined "Worms" more as a morality tale on the cyclical nature of bullying than a daredevil tale of childhood greed. Dolman has also sandwiched in time to fully develop the kids and their quirks, and truncated Rockwell's original 15 worms in 15 days bet to something more feverish, meeting the short attention span needs of summer audiences. Not every new idea works, and truthfully the subplot with Billy's parents (played by Tom Cavanagh and Kimberly Williams-Paisley) trying to deal with their own preconceptions could've been easily jettisoned; but sweating to reach 80 minutes, "Worms" needs all the plot it can get.
Dolman has a way with his child actors that makes "Worms" something special. A majority of the young talent here give tremendous performances, including standouts Luke Banward and Adam Hicks (who plays one of the more credible bullies I've seen in a long time). Dolman situates the nose-picking actors like a suburban "Bad News Bears," and instructs the talent to be silly, but not obnoxious. The kids bring this story to life, making the adults that pepper the tale look pretty bland by comparison.
Of course, the film centers on worm eating, and Dolman doesn't waste any chance to display the disgusting varieties of the slimy suckers Billy has to chug. While a clean film in terms of swearing or violence, "Worms" goes to town on the stomach-churning aspects of the story, with Dolman capturing every single slurp and swallow with a sickening glee that should send younger members of the audience into fits of giggles.
Hey, kids love the gross-out material, and "How to Eat Fried Worms" delivers on that guarantee with vast amounts of charm and upbeat execution. I just wouldn't recommend getting popcorn at the concession stand beforehand.
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