The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

Bomb Rating: 

Good God! A few priests put their hands in the wrong place and suddenly everyone is going apeshit, putting out derogatory t-shirts and making movies about the hypocrisy of the Church. Jesus, you'd think priests just started pawing young boys yesterday. Rest assured, priests and inappropriate touching go together like Muppets and fisting. This sort of behavior went on uninterrupted for centuries until those damn liberals came along and started encouraging children to rat out their priests, and now look where we are! Priests are out of jobs, kids are learning that tattling pays dividends, and uppity atheists are demanding breathing room in public spaces. Next thing you know kids will have actual inalienable rights, and then where will we be?

Basically, I don't know why the filmmakers of "The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys" think they're making a point since nuns and priests have been filling the minds of young children with crap -- and thus causing them to rebel -- since the dawn of time. Tim Sullivan (Kieran Culkin) sits at home while his parents beat the crap out of each other then has to go to school and have Sister Assumpta (Jodie Foster) embarrass him by mentioning his home life and suggesting the solution can be solved through the power of prayer. Sister Assumpta and the less stern Father Casey (Vincent D'Onofrio) don't seem to understand that their threats of eternal damnation don't mean much to a boy who's already in hell.

Naturally, Tim is prone to acting out. He does so with his friend Francis (Emile Hirsch). They do stupid things like saw down light posts and break into the zoo. Actually, the film focuses on Francis more than Tim, but Tim is the lightning rod for the film's themes. Francis, who can draw, does his acting out by imagining himself a superhero. The film portrays this impulse by actually animating those sequences via Todd McFarlane of "Spawn" fame. So, one minute we're watching a film, the next it's a cartoon. After that, it's a headache.

(SPOILER ALERT!!) The film's need to be melodramatic is horribly misplaced and undermines its condemnation of religion. Francis falls for Margie Flynn (Jena Malone) who, it turns out, has been encouraging her older brother to sleep with her because she really likes it. I'm all for mysterious revelation, but having sex with one's brother doesn't rank up there on the believability scale. Oh, don't get me wrong, I'm sure nuns and priests are driving young girls to screw their brothers all over America, I just think this particular town appears to have a freak-per-capita ratio that's off the charts even for the Bible Belt.

Tim ends up dying after sneaking into the zoo and trying to capture a cougar to put in Sister Assumpta's office. Okay, aside from the fact that on their first trip to the zoo the boys might have noticed the second cougar, who the hell sneaks into a zoo to steal a cougar? Hell, when I was a kid, trouble was getting caught sneaking onto a golf course. Had one of my friends suggested going to the zoo and stealing a cougar, I would have peed my pants laughing, called someone to cart my friend off to the loony bin, then promptly forgotten that he even existed.

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