Rating: R for language, brief nudity and drug use
Run Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
“Charlie Bartlett” has a foot in each door; low-budget clunker, jainky teen blockbuster and mainstream indie hybrid. Whew.
Charlie (Anton Yelchin) is a poor little rich boy, acting out his frustrations and expelled from so many private schools that mom (Hope Davis) finally enrolls him (gulp) at the local public.
Which only fuels the flames as Charlie – a Good Samaritan at heart – comes to the aid of the Western Summit High students with armchair counseling and prescription drugs to attend his cheap advice.
Ritalin, Prozac, Xanax – Charlie is a walking, talking pharmacy. In addition to his burgeoning student body clientele Charlie also develops a crush – on the principal’s daughter (Kat Dennings as Susan Gardner).
It’s a matter of time before Charlie is ruling the school and his shenanigans come to the attention of Principal Gardner (Robert Downey, Jr.), a single dad with a closet drinking problem and a slim grasp on reason.
There are only so many comic moments to be wrung from washroom confessionals and campus insurgence and the weak scripting can’t support them. The teen rebel cliché has been done to death and done better but a handful of performances nearly save the day; Yelchin and Dennings brimming with something akin to adolescent integrity and Downey, well let’s just say I’d be rapt watching him read the phone book aloud.
Banal bromides are tossed about with reckless abandon (‘what you do in this life matters!”) and core messages are clumsy. Bottom line it’s a lightweight outing heavy on convention.