View Date: May 5th, 2002

Rating: ($$$$ out of $$$$$)


Kieran Culkin Tim Sullivan
Jena Malone Margie Flynn
Emile Hirsch Francis Doyle
Vincent D'Onofrio Father Casey
Jodie Foster Sister Assumpta
Jake Richardson Wade
Tyler Long Joey Scalisi
Melissa Suzanne McBride Mrs. Doyle

Directed by:
Peter Care 

Written by 
(book) Chris Fuhrman
Jeff Stockwell
and Michael Petron

Related Viewings:
Sleepers (1996)
Stand by Me (1986)

Official Site:
Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

Also see my reviews at:


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Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

Ah the fertile, creative, yet fragile and malleable mind of a child. No movie in recent history has captured all these qualities so effectively, uniquely, and creatively, as does Peter Care’s dark coming of age movie, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys. Care uses a mix of crude, but believable humor, Heavy Metal style animation sequences, and gripping powerful revelations and moments, to tell his tale, and to honestly reflect the joys and pains of growing up. The film seems to be set in present day, but never really dates itself, since it deals with morals, issues and situations that are relevant throughout the ages.

Children in their early teens struggle to find themselves, while experimenting, playing grown-up, and dealing with the changes happening to them, and around them. With Altar Boys, Care has made the antithesis to the Dawson’s Creek style brainless teen faire, while still maintaining a sense of fun, mixing in doses of intelligence, and delivering his message with a powerful sentiment that will have you laughing one minute, cringing another, and in the end, leave you breathless in awe.

During the years between 13 and 18, kids minds wander, begin to become creative, expanding as their eyes are opened to the wonders of the world around them. They trek precariously, yet playfully, through these times, reveling in the highs, suffering some scars, but learning, and becoming the adults that we can be. We are introduced first to four comic warriors known as the Atomic Trinity (yes, there are 4, but its a trinity, kind of like in Airheads where the band was the Lone Rangers, but there were 3) and their arch nemesis known lovingly as Nunzilla. We then meet their creators, 4 Catholic school students with a penchant for indulging in vices and talking crudely, and dreaming about, girls of course. Tim (Culkin) and Francis (Hirsch) are opposites of each other, yet perfect compliments. Tim is a risk taker, seemingly always wanting attention, while Francis is a bit more cautious, but still as curious. After a practical joke puts them in peril, they seek to distract attention away by pulling off an even bigger one.

Meanwhile Francis is struggling and stumbling through his first taste of true love with Maggie (Malone), a sweet, but possibly troubled Catholic girl. I have left a lot out intentionally, as the way Care springs things upon the audience is part of the movies power. Suffice to say there are moments of crude humor, mixed in with moments of brutally honest emotion. Imagine the spirit of Stand By Me, with doses of Sleepers and a splash of Chasing Amy's comic book passion, and you will have just scratched the surface of Care's masterful story mix. Spawn creator Todd McFarlane's unique animation sequences simply have to be seen to be understood, and believe it or not, they flow perfectly with the story.

The movie effortlessly shifts emotions so quickly, that you will literally be laughing one moment and gasping in shock the next. The ease with which he does this is both frightening and refreshing. It also helps that the film is filled with strong, believable performances. As the risk taking Tim, Culkin (the one member of that family that can actually act) uses his bedhead hair, playful look, and emotion filled eyes to bring a humanity and innocence to a character that may be losing his. Hirsch and Malone are both soul baring as they discover emotions and feelings that their bodies are generating, but their brains cannot yet understand. And in support of the youngsters, Foster (sternly wicked) as "Nunzilla" and D'Onofrio, as the more humane Father Casey, both give the film an edge and show that even big stars can step out of limelight, yet still maintain it.

Ultimately, The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys is a unique journey through growing up, told in a style, and with a mix that defies simple definition and explanation. Suffice to say, you will probably not see a film like this anytime in the near future. Just as life, in the puberty years, is confusing, clouded, exciting, stressful, so is Care’s delivery of his message. Carried by the strong performances of Culkin, Malone and Hirsch, and intermingled with stunning and relevant and intense animation sequences from McFarlane, Care has captured the broad span of emotions that all kids feel at some point. We all wanted to grow up faster than we were supposed to, we all dreamed of rebelling against our elders, living in other worlds, escaping away, saving the world, and yet indulging in all of the forbidden vices that at the time seemed so cool.

Care has given the youth of America a movie to rally behind, or at least relate to, and has given the adults the most honest look into what their kids may be doing when they aren’t looking. So parents, pay attention, teachers, leave them kids alone, and kids, beware of the motorcycle nuns, the sedated cougars, and the ghosts at the foot of the bed. Trust me, it will all make sense after you see the movie.


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