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Review

Reviewers split over new teen flick ‘Charlie Bartlett’

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February 28, 2008

One of my favorite teen movies has to be 1990’s “Pump Up the Volume.” About a renegade DJ who truly connected with his small town’s angsty youth, the film possessed great amounts of vigor, passion and intelligence—all traits one wouldn’t think to find in a teen movie.  “Charlie Bartlett” tries heading down a similar road, trying to fit a healthy dose of classroom commentary into the frame of a comedy riding on “Napoleon Dynamite’s” coattails. But for a film that should come with the ambition and spirit of a “Heathers,” “Charlie Bartlett” feels more like “She’s All That,” serving up bargain-basement morals in such a mediocre manner.

Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) is a wily high schooler with a knack for getting into trouble. After getting booted out of one private academy too many, young Charlie is forced to, horror of horrors, take his chances in public school.

His spiffy manner of dress and habit of carrying a briefcase to class make him an all-too-easy target for bullies, but in no time, our hero is formulating a plan that will land him a one-way ticket to popularity.

After being prescribed Ritalin, Charlie decides to appoint himself the school’s unofficial psychiatrist, dispensing advice and prescription drugs to a student body tired of being ignored by their complacent educators. All of a sudden, the entire school is lining up for a session with “Dr. Charlie,” though the consequences of his extracurricular activities threaten to catch up with him once the principal (Robert Downey Jr.) gets wind of Charlie’s on the side enterprise and scrambles to shut it down as soon as possible.

There’s no doubt that there’s at least some semblance of intelligence in “Charlie Bartlett,” and that the filmmakers have an honorable message in mind to convey. But this is one of those movies that one might mistake for being good just because it’s so easy to watch.

The trouble with “Charlie Bartlett” is that it never knows when to play its hand or how hard to play it, resulting in not only ill-placed attempts to say something, but also in being confused about what it wants to say.

A buddy of mine put it best in saying that whatever conflicts arise during the plot are solved in no time, leaving virtually no room for suspense and giving the viewers little more to do than just wait for the ending credits to arrive. Also, the script never really makes up its mind about how it wants to depict Charlie. Yelchin’s performance isn’t bad, but it’s only as good as the slipshod writing allows it to be.

The fact of the matter is that “Charlie Bartlett” isn’t really that funny (save for a few scant, chuckle-inducing moments), nor is it really inspirational. But the experience of actually watching the film is relatively painless, leaving “Charlie Bartlett” in the awkward position of being all too underwhelming to recommend, yet too much of a breeze to wholly pan.

A.J. Hakari is a student at UW-River Falls.