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"Devious, delinquent, and diverting."
"Todd McFarlane give(s) the film sizzling transitions from reality to fantasy."
"If that's not living life dangerously, I don't know what is."
The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys  


Tim Sullivan: Kieran Culkin
Margie Flynn: Jena Malone
Francis Doyle: Emile Hirsch
Father Casey: Vincent D'Onofrio
Sister Assumpta: Jodie Foster
Review June 2002

Devious, delinquent, and diverting. "Dangerous" is a coming-of-age tale that takes us back to adolescent years: A time of innocence, first kisses, and rebellion....and a time for mischief.

At St. Agatha's Catholic school, Tim Sullivan and Francis Doyle aren't your typical Catholic altar boys. They are misguided youths living in a world of their own creation, where good and evil are clearly defined just like the characters in their comic book: The Atomic Trinity. In the comic, they are represented by superheroes, who do battle with an evil, motorcycle driving Nunzilla and her army of minions. Of course, the comic is based on the boys' relationship with Sister Assumpta, the most easily recognizable authority figure in their lives.

Portrayed by Jodie Foster, Sister Assumpta is not really evil. It's just that her good intentions interfere with the boys' attempts to have fun. They poke fun of her during prayer, draw unflattering pictures of her, and mock her every word. Yet she is not the only target of such amusement. Father Casey, the school's resident priest and soccer coach, also receives a handful.

When not depicted in the comic, the boys' real lives consist of numerous misadventures: They take down a telephone pole as an experiment in triangulation, they skim alcohol from their parents, experiment with cigarettes and drugs, purchase comics, uncover secrets, toss around sexual innuendos, steal a religious statue, and attempt the theft of a cougar from a public zoo.

Most of the story is told from the perspective of Francis. And it is through Francis that we see the experiences having the most effect. For it is he who falls in love with the beautiful Margie Flynn. It is he who plays the role of the skeptic. It is he who must deal with a dark secret. And it is he who learns self-reliance and must overcome a significant loss.

Without him, the picture would just be a collage of practical jokes and pranks. But Emile Hirsch shines in the role. Through his eyes we can share in his excitement, his doubt, his bewilderment, and his sadness. Through his eyes, we can see a little bit of ourselves growing up.

The film also makes use of animation, perhaps the most energetic and exciting part of the film. Todd McFarlane, well-known artist in the comic world for penciling Spiderman and creating Spawn, lends his remarkable talent here. Illustrations seamlessly intermingle with live action to give the film sizzling transitions from reality to fantasy. Take for instance the scene in which Sister Assumpta peddles her bicycle past the boys on a neighborhood street. That scene slams right into Nunzilla on a motorcycle attacking the superheroes!

There are many humorous moments in the film; however, there are also many serious adult overtones that cast a shadow on the picture's intent to capture the troublesome times of youths transitioning to adulthood. The secret behind Margie Flynn is overwhelming and too much for the film to bear. And the theft of the cougar from a city zoo seems far-fetched, let alone improbable for the boys to encumber.

That withstanding, the film has freshness in its simplicity. The boys are not evil in nature; rather, they are young teenage boys rebelling against the nearest authority. That authority just so happens to be the Catholic church, Sister Assumpta, and Father Casey. They mockingly put drugs in Father Casey's wine during mass, they ignore their responsibilities as altar boys during communion, they lift the center statue of Saint Agatha, and they draw suggestive and imaginative pictures of Sister Assumpta and her prosthetic leg.

If that's not living life dangerously, I don't know what is. But eventually, the day will come when adolescence comes to an end and life will be forever changed.

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