Following in the footsteps of Ferris

Too cool for school? Sorry, dude.

Charlie Bartlett’s personal bible is totally “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” When Charlie goes to bed at night, he probably looks up at a poster of the oh-so-charming Mr. Bueller and prays a novena to be just like him one day. Now, the similarities between the two high schoolers are astounding: unbeatable charisma, hyper-talented at the art of subtle manipulation, a suspicious principal on their tails, and a flock of young, freshly scrubbed worshipful devotees from all the stereotypical high-school cliques you could imagine. Throw in a little dash of Tom Cruise’s Wayfarer-wearing Joel Goodsen in “Risky Business,” and that’s the recipe for one Charlie Bartlett.

“Charlie Bartlett”

Starring: Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey, Jr., Tyler Hilton
Directed by: Jon Poll
Rated: R
Showing at: Area Theaters

But even though Charlie B. tries his very hardest to walk in the footsteps of the great Ferris, he just can’t live up to the hype. After all, wasn’t the golden age of the teen movie back in the 1980s, when most of us were just tykes in diapers?

“Charlie Bartlett” tells the story of privileged rich kid Charlie, who’s been kicked out of one too many private schools for an assortment of shenanigans. He’s got a distant dad in jail for tax evasion and a mother dependent on her expensive wine and prescription drugs; his family even has a personal psychiatrist! So dapper young Charlie attempts to attend – gasp – public school, but of course it isn’t so easy making a name for yourself in a world full of cliques and high school drama-rama. In addition to his familial troubles, Charlie’s got a whole list of new problems: the token bully (Tyler Hilton, a blast from the recent past, looks just like a young Billy Zane) who oh-so-creatively gives Charlie a swirly his first day in school and the emotionally unstable principal (Robert Downey, Jr., who in 1986 would have played the lead) and his pretty daughter Susie (Kat Dennings, who is the realest-looking teenage “leading lady” onscreen today), to name a few.

Lucky for Charlie he’s got a personal psychiatrist to prescribe him whatever medication he’d like! And what does clever Charles do with this veritable candy store of painkillers, anti-anxiety meds and antidepressants? Why, he sets up a psychiatric practice of his own and starts medicating the student body! Voilà! Instant popularity! Now Charlie is famous! And controversies ensue, obviously.

So what’s the problem here? “Charlie Bartlett” is harmless, mindless fun in its earliest stages; the first half hour is genuinely entertaining. Anton Yelchin, who plays Charlie, is a barrel of monkeys acting-wise and he’s definitely taken some cues from Matthew Broderick, lighting up the screen with his easy appeal. (He sings! He plays piano! He speaks in foreign accents! He jabbers in an easygoing Ferris-style cadence, but he sure doesn’t talk into the camera, which was kind of disappointing.) All the actors are solid and entertaining for the most part, but the movie can’t sustain its enthusiasm under all the pressure to be fresh and exciting in the tired world of teenybop dramedies.

“Charlie Bartlett” tries to keep itself relevant by addressing its very 21st century target demographic, an audience of teenagers cavalier about popping a few Prozac or Xanax to combat their adolescent angst. It wants to make a statement about the over-medicating of our young population, but it doesn’t have the solid foundation to do so. And of course it feels the need to “get serious” in its final half hour in an effort to follow the pre-set formula of teen movies. Like the proverbial new kid at school, it tries way too hard to be likable.

If “Charlie Bartlett” had stayed as lighthearted a trifle as “Ferris Bueller,” maybe “Charlie Bartlett” would be a name we’d remember in 20 years. But from the looks of it, we probably won’t. There can only be one big man on campus, ya know.