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"Angus' goes through tortured-teen motions

Published Oct. 4, 2005

Fifteen-year-old Angus Bethune is what polite company might call "a lug." He's overweight, with a cereal-bowl haircut. A good boy, with a knack for science and football, but an easy target for insults from trimmer kids who consider him a slow-moving, uncool lump.

Well, he isn't. But director Patrick Read Johnson's rehash of the ugly duckling archetype certainly is. Angus has the usual set-ups: a crush on an unattainable girl, a bully, even a rigged dance/royalty election like Carrie. Nothing fresh or charming added, no goosebump moments, just a boy and his appetite.

Johnson's message _ when he finally gets around to it _ is the old chestnut about not judging books or people by their covers. For all its good intentions, Angus soon becomes tiring, with dingy photography, pedestrian pacing and a central character too lumpish and withdrawn to connect with an audience.

Charlie Talbert was discovered in a McDonald's restaurant and hired for the title role, more for his jowls than his acting chops. Talbert's habit of squelching his lines into murmurs and maintaining the same expressions may be an attempt to portray disaffected youth, but he comes across as an uninterested actor.

Ariana Richards revives her Jurassic Park look of fear as the school sweetheart who Angus admires, but she barely says a word until the final reel. When she does, it's to announce a left-field revelation that doesn't make a ripple in the story. Chris Owens bases his performance as Angus' buddy on his alternating resemblances to Barney Fife and Howdy Doody, and most of the risque lines in the script.

Johnson never seems to know which audience his film is accommodating. Angus is too elementary and uneventful to hold adolescent and adult interest, but gratuitous profanity and some below-the-belt humor (including a crucial inflatable sex doll) make it inappropriate for small children.

Oscar winner George C. Scott adds nothing to his estimable reputation as Angus' crusty grandfather, whose impending marriage to a younger woman is yet another crisis for the boy to handle. Grandpa likes to dispense vulgar advice that we correctly guess will be a pivotal climactic line, and he's a sounding board for Angus' mom (Kathy Bates, slumming) and her own distracting concerns. Angus might be an amiable diversion, if Johnson had the cinematic instinct to keep the story lean and focused.

Even a movie about an overweight kid should trim away some of the fat.

MOVIE REVIEW

Angus Grade: D

Cast: Charlie Talbert, George C. Scott, Kathy Bates, Ariana Richards

Rating: PG-13; vulgarity; violence