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THE DANGEROUS LIVES OF ALTAR BOYS

Despite the provocative title, no altar boys are abused in the course of The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys except, of course, by the standard Catholic strategies of repression, humiliation, and terror. Adapted by Peter Care from the only novel by Chris Fuhrman (he died of cancer at age 31), this sometimes brilliant, sometimes confused, often funny and sad first feature tells the perennial story of 14-year-olds in the crucible of a parochial education who rebel not so much with silence and cunning as through absurdist pranks and blasphemous comic strips. And, of course, forbidden thoughts about sex. Young Francis (Emile Hirsch) is smitten by thoughtful, Botticelli-faced Margie (Jena Malone), but he spends most of his energy with his friend Tim (Kieran Culkin), a darkly inspired, irredeemable misfit, and a coterie of like-minded malcontents inventing adventures for their superhero alter egos in their homemade mag, The Atomic Trinity. The arch villainess of the piece is draconian, peg-legged Sister Assumpta (Jodie Foster!), and animation artist (Spawn) Todd McFarlane injects almost Blakean (the kids recognize the great poet and engraver as one of the first comic-book artists) beauty into their kitschy fantasies. Set in the 70s, the film has little period feel, except for the timeless period when innocence changes into experience and then back again.

BY PETER KEOUGH

Issue Date: June 20 - 27, 2002
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