EmptyOpens: Friday, July 11.
The big joke of the small indie “Harold” is that a boy with ultra-early-onset male pattern baldness not only looks like an old man but acts like one. He wears shapeless clothes and oversize glasses. He watches “Murder, She Wrote.” He calls people “dear.” Everyone’s game in this comedy, particularly Spencer Breslin as the title teen and Cuba Gooding Jr. as Cromer, the wiseass janitor who’s got his back in the no man’s land of middle school. But most of the shtick has all the sting of stale Geritol.
In the feature director’s chair for the first time, former “Saturday Night Live” scribe T. Sean Shannon, working from the script he co-wrote with Greg Fields, never generates any zing as he choreographs the spoof. Although it hits a few comic targets, the story plods and often just lies there. Flat visuals and sometimes garish lighting don’t help. This City Lights Pictures presentation of a M.E.G.A. Films/Blue Star Entertainment production, opening July 11 in limited release, will be a better fit as a small-screen diversion.
Getting out to have some fun with high-school movie cliches, the film finds 13-year-old Harold (Breslin) perfectly happy in his tiny town, where everyone accepts his unusual looks. But after his single mom (Ally Sheedy, in what will not be remembered as her finest moment) gets a transfer, he’s forced to navigate the minefield of a new school, complete with bullies, dorks and clueless teachers. Harold finds an eager friend in Rhonda (the bubbly Nikki Blonsky), but mostly he’s ridiculed and tormented, while his older sister (Stella Maeve) enjoys instant popularity. On the home front, Harold has to fend off his very own Maude -- a hot-to-trot neighbor (Suzanne Shepherd) who mistakes him for an eligible retiree, culminating in a slow-speed chase on mobility scooters, a stunt far better staged when “Seinfeld” did it.
Breslin nails his old soul’s bunion-hobbled, stooped shuffle. He plays well off Gooding’s strutting Cromer as well as a briefly seen Fred Willard and “SNL” vets Chris Parnell, Colin Quinn and Rachel Dratch. But a film whose climactic event is a go-cart race should feel giddier and fresher than what transpires here.