Kids These Days

Teen comedy Charlie Bartlett could use a dose of mean.

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Directed by Jon Poll. Written by Gustin Nash. Starring Anton Yelchin, Hope Davis, Tyler Hilton, Kat Dennings, and Robert Downey Jr.

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Like most wannabe heroes of the eager-to-please teen comedy, poor little rich boy Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin) is too charming by half and not nearly quirky enough. Expelled from his ritzy private school, our blazered hero soon finds himself dispatched to a public school by his desperate single mother (Hope Davis). Some mild narrative edge — Charlie goes into business with the school meanie supplying the student body with prescription drugs — is soon lost when screenwriter Gustin Nash and director Jon Poll begin raking industriously over the usual Troubled Youth talking points: overmedicated adolescents ill-served by crumbling high schools, a drug-happy medical establishment, and malfunctioning parents. Davis is quietly intelligent as Marilyn Bartlett, who washes down her own meds with a cheeky Chardonnay and treats her son as a replacement husband, and Kat Dennings brings sexy wit to her role as Charlie's sane gal pal. But as Kat's father and the school's barely coping principal, Robert Downey Jr. seems muffled and barely present. Which might be why he's given a gun to wave around in the third act, before we hear the tinkling sound of everything falling into wholesome place. Like its anodyne hero, Charlie Bartlett wants to make mischief, but it wants even more to get a gold star.

 
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