Young girls are the target audience for so many films, yet it seems like there aren't many aimed at boys. So "How to Eat Fried Worms" gets points for that, its title alone surely piquing the interest of 8-11-year-old lads everywhere.
Adapted rather loosely by writer/director Bob Dolman from Thomas Rockwell's kids' book, this is a pleasant enough little two-act film about Billy (Luke Benward), a fifth-grader whose family has just moved to a new city, making him the new kid in school. Billy's brother Woody (Ty Panitz) jumps right into things at preschool, but Billy can't seem to cut it in fifth grade.
It doesn't help that, being new, he is subject to the taunts of the school bully, Joe (Adam Hicks), a skinny redheaded jerkface who commands a small squadron of semi-loyal cowards, mostly kids who have realized the only way to avoid Joe's torment is to be on his team. After a prank involving worms is played on him, Billy tries to shrug it off by saying he eats worms all the time anyway. Joe calls his bluff and demands he eat 10 worms in the course of one day or suffer extreme humiliation. All the other boys gather 'round (and choose sides), and the Junior Fear Factor games begin!
The story turns out to be a sunny lesson about bullying and friendship, with Joe's behavior explained (over-simply) by the fact that he's the victim of his own older brother's bullying. "Can't we all get along?" is the film's eventual point, and it's made with optimistic cheerfulness.
Most of the young cast of li'l actors are charismatic and relatable, looking like a "normal" lot of 10-year-olds -- that is, some are too short, some are too big, some have freckles, some have glasses. I think kids respond better to movies where the characters look like them, as opposed to ones full of kids from the JC Penney catalog.
Dolman takes the film off-course a few times, notably in the minor subplot about Billy's dad (Thomas Cavanagh) having trouble making friends at his new job. It was probably unnecessary to include an adult-world parallel to Billy's situation, though Cavanagh is a funny and welcome presence. Likewise, Dolman has introduced a female character -- an icky, cootie-ridden GIRL -- named Erika (Hallie Kate Eisenberg, formerly the adorable Pepsi girl) to be Billy's platonic friend. She serves almost no purpose other than perhaps giving young females an entry point into the film. But honestly, young females aren't going to be interested in a movie about worm-eating anyway.
It is also curious how much is made in the beginning of Billy's notoriously weak stomach -- he'll throw up at the drop of a hat -- yet it's never explained how he overcomes that to eat the worms.
Oh yes, worms are eaten. Not for real, apparently (the last thing you want is PETA all up in your grill for the mistreatment of worms), but realistic facsimiles are fried, buttered, breaded, blended and devoured. It's all in the name of innocent childhood goofiness, a blast of frivolity that is so important in a young boy's diet.
There are optional English and Spanish subtitles, but no alternate language tracks.
VIDEO: The anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer is smooth and clean. Despite being set during the school year, the movie has the vibrant look of summertime, and the colors are vivid on the DVD.
Oh, the disc gives you the option of watching a fullscreen version, too, if you prefer. (Which you shouldn't. But that's between you and your clergyman.)
AUDIO: Again, two options: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and Dolby Stereo Surround. Both are fine. It's not a very high-tech film, sound-wise, but these mixes are certainly presentable.
EXTRAS: There's a really thorough assortment of extras on this disc. To wit:
- A commentary featuring director Bob Dolman and cast members Luke Benward, Hallie Kate Eisenberg, Alexander Gould, and Austin Rogers. It's actually a really fun commentary, buoyed by the kids' natural enthusiasm and Dolman's gentle, avuncular way with them. When a performer's scene is coming up, Dolman will say, "What do you remember about this?," and the kids will talk about the movie-making experience.
- A gag reel (3:27) of outtakes and general on-set mirth-making. Strangely, the bloopers are interspersed with bits of animation like the kind used in the film's opening credits.
- A worm montage (2:57), which is exactly what it sounds like: a collection of the movie's worm-eating moments. Yuck.
- Seven deleted scenes (5:33 total). There's an optional director's commentary on them, in which he explains that in pretty much every case, the bits were cut simply for time considerations. The scenes are cute enough.
- A little feature called "Movie Making Made Fun" (10:22). It's your basic behind-the-scenes doc, made a little more enjoyable than most because the child actors are (relatively) down-to-earth. It's always fun to watch kids having fun.
- "Worm Cuisine" (5:05) shows how they made the fake worms for the kids to eat in the movie. No joke: This was fascinating. Some of the imitation worms tasted like cheesecake!
- A music video (1:50) for the song "Worm Guts," recorded for the film and accompanied by moments from the movie.
- The film's theatrical trailer (2:30).
Here's a charming, fun movie that boys can sink their teeth into. The DVD presentation is great, too, making it worth buying.
(Note: Most of the "movie review" portion of this article comes from the review I wrote when the movie was released theatrically. I have re-watched it in the course of reviewing the DVD, however.)