Lloyd is a skinny, red-headed, bespectacled sixth-grader (think of a twelve-year-old Carrot Top & you're dead on) who's so desperate to be popular that he is constantly doing ridiculous things that only get him jeers. He falls in love with the "new girl at school" but she goes for the boy that says, "I'm cute & popular." Furthermore, the teachers aren't entirely supportive of him. At home, his mother gives him pep talks but his little brother, apparently a kind of nine-year-old Cassanova, rags on him as much as anyone. Lloyd falls into a depression until he decides to use the only skill he seems to have, an interest in magic, to turn the tables on one of his teachers at a school function.
It sounds like standard kiddie movie fare, but there are some weird elements to this movie that compelled me to write this commentary. First of all, the kids are not very good actors. An elementary school in a suburb of Los Angeles doing the traditional Thanksgiving story could run rings around these youngsters. The tagline seems to want us to believe this is a story about self-esteem, but beside his queer looks, Lloyd really isn't all that special. The magic he learns from weird special guest Tom Arnold isn't really magic at all - it's a trick played in a movie, reliant on the cameras & editing, certainly not one a twelve-year-old could learn. So his search for self-esteem is banal in the extreme - was the director hoping for an audience of underachievers? & if he got it, wouldn't even underachievers be offended by it?
I was also a little nonplussed by the emphasis on children's sexuality. While obviously not on the level of your average teen "but I've never had sex" comedy, the film seems to spend a lot of time showing children in their early teens (barely out of adolescence) holding hands, kissing for the first time, dreaming about kissing, & talking about it. Lloyd's only friend describes french kissing as "ringing the bell" in the back of a girl's mouth. Oh, doubtless kids that age think about & do things of that nature all the time - it just felt stilted & clumsy to me, especially as Lloyd was completely clueless in that regard. An examination of the whys & hows of early courting, seen though the eyes of an outsider, could have been funny & revealing here.
The most confusing element is the stuff added apparently for adults wanting to be entertained while taking their kids to see the movie. A convenience store clerk with difficult facial hair stares at a movie he's watching at work & says, "I have got to finish film school." Tom Arnold, as a sort of mentor to Lloyd, talks a lot about how fat he used to be. The teacher in the "special ed" class Lloyd is sent to tells the kids he has problems with depression & talks about how an imaginary friend helped him in school, though the classes he mentioned are obviously college-level. Remember, this is not an indie comedy or even a Saturday Night Live franchise flick. This is ostensibly a movie to be viewed by kids in elementary & middle school. (In any event, for a fellow in his 30s, even those parts aren't very funny.)
I remember as a kid, the sophisticated parts of Warner Brothers cartoons might have baffled me, but the stuff for the whole family was funny. Later on, the deeply censored Hanna Barbera cartoons of the 70s were just plain insulting, even to a ten-year-old. But I can't believe that the director of this movie really thought he was talking to kids the same age as Lloyd. Now, I caught this film in the afternoon with nothing else on, & had never heard of it, so it didn't make much of a splash. But I think it's fair to say that some of the reasons it didn't were: a talentless, uninteresting cast; an unambitious focus; & baffling attempts to be funny beyond its apparent audience's years.