I’ve always thought high school was the worst years of many people’s lives. At least it was for me. That’s usually when school cliques take shape to the extreme. But I could be wrong, everyone’s experience is different. And Rafe (Gluck) is certainly different. While most boys his age are most likely wrapped up in the latest video game or consuming a TV show, the artistic preteen spends a lot of his free time drawing freehand and imaging a world around him that doesn’t exist, much like JD from SCRUBS.
He’s about to start at Hills Village Middle School after being kicked out of his previous school. He’s not a bad apple or a rebel rouser, but he doesn’t fit in with any educational structure or abides by rules very well. Feeding his frustration and discontent is the fact that his sister gets on his nerves and his mom’s boyfriend, Carl (Riggle) is a continual thorn in his side. The only time his sister isn’t a pest is when they’re teaming up to combat Carl and his chauvinistic tendencies or ideas.
At Hills Village Middle School though, Rafe finds solace in breaking the myriad of rules the principal, played by Andy Daly, has established and enforces with an iron fist. Rafe breaks the mold by creating a series of escalating pranks that happen out the school. It isn’t found out until much later in the film that he’s a prank master, but it’s odd that the kid who doodles and has a creative mind that’s on 24/7 isn’t the prime suspect in all of the pranks. These are stereotypical pranks though. My favorite is when he coats the school in different colored sticky notes to paint pictures and bring life to the hallways.
Rafe is a fun, slightly relatable, preteen that gradually works his way into your heart as the movie goes along. Everyone is else is by the numbers and the story feels like a retread. Which is unfortunate because you think the creative mind of Rafe would spill over into everything else. The only moments of Zen that the viewer gets from the standard storytelling is when we watch as Rafe populates the real world with drawn cartoon characters from his head as they scurry about.
I don’t know if this is the movie creator’s fault or the fault of the book it’s based on. The book was written by James Patterson, who’s very compelling and pithy, a New York Times Bestseller dozens and dozens of times over. The book was adapted by three different people, and surely the director had a say, which maybe he shouldn’t considering the last movie he was a part of was the critically panned MOVIE 43.
If middle school is truly the worst years of Rafe’s life, it doesn’t show. He seems to ace it with flying colors and his home life seems to be more of a crutch in his emotional development in one of the most turbulent growth years of any person’s life. We don’t get a lot of that and Carl, while being an absolute scumbag, is brushed aside easily and never menacing. That might be because Riggle is more obnoxious than threatening as the potential stepdad for Rafe.MIDDLE SCHOOL has a little bit too much going on, to focus in on its strength’s or allow Rafe to take the reins and lead viewers down a fun, new exciting path. That’s not to say I didn’t have a good time or enjoyed parts of the movie. I’m actually interested in reading the book and wondering that if a sequel is greenlit, how much they can improve upon their shortcomings. Regardless, for the adolescent crowd, they might get a kick out of Rafe’s antics before they begin to work their way up to the 21st century coming of age movie like AMERICAN PIE or PORKY’S.