(director: Steve Carr; screenwriters: based on the novel by James Patterson/Chris Bowman/Kara Holden/Hubbel Palmer; cinematographer: Julio Macat; editors: Wendy Greene Bricmont/Craig Herring; music: Jeff Cardoni; cast: Griffin Gluck (Rafe Khatchadorian), Lauren Graham (Jules), Alexa Nisenson (Georgia), Andy Daly (Principal Dwight), Thomas Barbusca (Leo), Rob Riggle (Carl), Effren Ramirez (Gus), Retta (Ida Stricker), Jacob Hopkins (Miller), Luke Christopher Hardeman (Shon), Adam Pally (Mr. Teller), Isabela Moner (Jeanne), Angela Oh (School Superintendent; Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Leopoldo Gout/Bill Robinson; Lionsgate/CBS Films; 2016)

Promising family comedy on schools stifling students never materializes as a fresh comedy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Promising family comedy on schools stifling students never materializes as a fresh comedy under the limp direction of Steve Carr (“Movie 43“/”Iron Fist”). It’s adapted by writers Chris Bowman, Kara Holden, and Hubbel Palmer from the book by James Patterson. The third school in a year for the expelled affable art-inspired adolescent Rafe Khatchadorian (Griffin Gluck) is the Village Hills Middle School. Despite trying not to get bounced from another school while still in grief over family losses, nevertheless Rafe instantly clashes with the rules-obsessed touch hole principal Dwight (Andy Daly) on his first day. When the mean-spirited dumb principal tosses his valued art sketch book into a bucket of acid for disobeying the school’s Code of Conduct during a school assembly, Rafe schemes to mess with the principal’s head. Rafe’s harried working single mom Jules (Lauren Graham) and his feisty younger sister Georgia (Alexa Nisenson, she steals every scene she’s in) try to protect the imaginative Rafe from getting into trouble. But when Carl (Rob Riggle), mom’s antagonistic oafish self-centered boyfriend moves in, his boorish attacks on Rafe makes him an enemy. Rafe is most comfortable with his mysterious younger best friend Leo (Thomas Barbusca). The two team up to expose the principal as an evil educator, as they sabotage the upcoming BLAAR standardized test (an uninventive way of grading students that the principal relishes), prank the principal by putting paint in his hat, and vandalize the halls with scores of Post-it pads as wallpaper. Rafe also falls in love with the Green Peace activist Jeanne (Isabela Moner), a soul mate who supports his rebellion. Mr. Teller (Adam Pally), Rafe’s caring cool teacher, is around to show that a good teacher makes a big difference to students. The formulaic comedy was stale even if spiced up by Rafe’s drawings coming to life in animation, but the educational points it makes are right-on to favor thinking outside the box rather than aiming for conformity by only teaching how to take tests.