The Education of Charlie Banks -- Film Review

His sophomore effort, last summer's "The Longshots," might have been released first, but Fred Durst's freshman feature serves as an entirely respectable debut for the former Limp Bizkit frontman.

"The Education of Charlie Banks," an intelligent coming-of-age drama about an Ivy League college kid who has an uncomfortable reunion with an old high school bully, finally hits theaters after a well-received debut at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival.

Although the impressively acted ensemble piece occasionally gets tripped up by Peter Elkoff's overtly literate script, it travels in some unexpected, thoughtful directions.

To say the film's somewhat withdrawn title character (Jesse Eisenberg) is less than thrilled when Mick (a breakout Jason Ritter) shows up in his upstate New York dorm one day is an understatement. Several years earlier, Charlie had gone to the police, fingering Mick as the perpetrator of a violent attack on two colleagues before abruptly recanting.

Charlie can't be sure if Mick ever caught on, but what is certain is that the working class tough guy with the short fuse is proceeding to insinuate himself into Charlie's sheltered life, including charming Charlie's not-so-secret crush, the spirited Mary (Eva Amurri).

For the most part, Durst maintains an effective tension between the timid protagonist and the charismatic antagonist, save for the occasional weakness for underscoring the obvious.

Still, Durst does a fine job establishing the specifics of place and time, while coaxing strong performances from his young cast, including Eisenberg, Chris Marquette as his impressionable dorm-mate and the energetic Amurri, who's the daughter of Susan Sarandon.

But the true head-turner is delivered by another famous offspring: Jason Ritter, son of the late John Ritter, whose portrayal of the troubled Mick combines a believably brooding intensity with a bad boy swagger that brings to mind the young Matt Dillon.

Opens: Friday, March 27 (Anchor Bay Entertainment)