Well, thank heavens for Rob Riggle.
The least funny of the rotating crew of Col. Sanders in those TV commercials turns out to be the one comic saving grace of “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life.” One of TV and the cinema’s typecast jerks makes a laugh-out-loud “Mom’s hateful new boyfriend” in this colorless kids’ comedy with an anarchic edge, a film with neither the performers nor the wit to cut through the cliches.
Griffin Gluck is the blandly cute leading man, improbably named “Rafe” by his sous chef mom (Lauren Graham). He’s a mopey lad who loses himself in his fantastical comic book drawings, so much so that he’s been kicked out of several schools when we meet him.
His latest middle school, Hills Valley, is a comically draconian institution with a lengthy list of rules nobody is allowed to break. Don’t touch the trophy case, “No crazy hair colors” and “always do what the principal (Andrew Daly) says.
Rafe gets bullied, moons over the cute girl (Isabelle Moner) and when his notebook of drawings is confiscated and destroyed in a bucket of acid by Principal Dwight, decides to rebel. He and pal Leo (Thomas Barbusca) will go through the Code of Conduct, and break every single rule in school.
There are pranks involving paint in the principals’ hat, fart-noises on the PA system, balls in the teacher’s lounge and post-it notes.
All of it financed (stolen credit card numbers) by the jerk (Riggle) that Mom is dating and planning to marry, a BMW-driving loser who has a different track suit for every occasion. Hapless “Bear,” as Rafe and mouthy sister Georgia (Alexa Nisenson) call the prospective dad-to-be, is their one worthy foil, the kind of guy who will try to turn around your “butt-wipe” insult into a compliment.
Aside from Riggle, there isn’t a laugh in this. Adam Pally makes a pleasantly amusing version of the “hip” teacher — using music mixtapes to illustrate international trade. Efren Ramirez, “Pedro” of “Napoleon Dynamite,” is stereotypically cast as the janitor, the tween girls dress like Kardashians and the boys obsess on mastering one aspect of anatomy, marveling at Rafe’s “Expertly drawn boobs.”
“Hey, those were ACCURATE! I think.”
You can appreciate the effort to be edgy that this film, based on James Patterson/Will Tebbetts novel.
But the wimpy kid here isn’t interesting, the “worst years” a dull exaggeration and the movie not worth the 92 minutes it takes to sit through.
MPAA Rating:PG for rude humor throughout, language and thematic elements
Cast: Griffin Gluck, Lauren Graham, Andrew Daly, Retta, Rob Riggle, Isabelle Moner
Credits:Directed by Steve Carr, script by Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer and Kara Holden, based on the book by James Patterson and Will Tebbetts. A Lionsgate/CBS Films release.
Running time: 1:32