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The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys (2002)



Average Rating: 6.5/10
Reviews Counted: 110
Fresh: 85 | Rotten: 25

The inter-cutting of animation by Spawn's creator, Todd McFarlane, doesn't always work, but the performances by the young actors capture the pains of growing up well.


Average Rating: 6.1/10
Critic Reviews: 32
Fresh: 20 | Rotten: 12

The inter-cutting of animation by Spawn's creator, Todd McFarlane, doesn't always work, but the performances by the young actors capture the pains of growing up well.



liked it
Average Rating: 3.6/5
User Ratings: 16,173

My Rating

Movie Info

The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys brings Chris Fuhrman's well-received, posthumously published teen novel to the screen. Set in the 1970s, the film concerns two rebellious Catholic schoolboys -- bashful, pensive Francis (Emile Hirsch) and whip-smart, impulsive Tim (Kieran Culkin) -- who spend their free time pulling elaborate pranks and creating a comic book featuring themselves and their friends, Wade (Jake Richardson) and Joey (Tyler Long), as superheroes. Their alter egos are brought to life



Jeff Stockwell

Nov 5, 2002


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All Critics (118) | Top Critics (34) | Fresh (85) | Rotten (25) | DVD (11)

Although McFarlane's sequences are inventive, the rest of the film moves languidly.

June 28, 2002
Arizona Republic
Top Critic IconTop Critic

I thought the young actors were strong, but the material is too thin and too cliched, even with Todd McFarlane's animated sequences to stretch the story to feature length.

June 25, 2002 Full Review Source: Ebert & Roeper
Ebert & Roeper
Top Critic IconTop Critic

It's not serious enough to be profound, and not ribald enough to be giddy.

June 25, 2002 Full Review Source: New York Observer
New York Observer
Top Critic IconTop Critic

While there are times when the film's reach exceeds its grasp, the production works more often than it doesn't.

June 24, 2002 Full Review Source: ReelViews
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Steers refreshingly clear of the usual cliches.

June 21, 2002
Washington Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Sharp, lively, funny and ultimately sobering film.

June 21, 2002
Washington Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Altar Boys doesn't strive to revolutionise the genre, but by playing to what it knows the film works as an appealing teenage reminiscence.

November 16, 2012 Full Review Source: Empire Magazine Australasia
Empire Magazine Australasia

Esforça-se ao máximo para arrancar lágrimas do espectador, mas, com exceção da performance cativante de Culkin, o filme empalidece diante de tantos outros do gênero.

May 20, 2005
Cinema em Cena

Devious, delinquent, and diverting.

November 12, 2004 Full Review Source: Oregon Herald

A fairly formulaic '70s-set coming-of-age tale that's ultimately distinguished by the passion of its makers and players.

January 12, 2004 Full Review Source:

The only bright spot in the whole movie is Vincent D'Onofrio's performance as a priest.

April 19, 2003 Full Review Source: Reel Film Reviews
Reel Film Reviews

Ultimately feels empty and unsatisfying, like swallowing a Communion wafer without the wine.

December 8, 2002 Full Review Source: Film Threat
Film Threat

Best suited for those who can recall their stifling and intense Catholic School education from back in the day, Altar Boys is certainly a worthwhile way to spend 90-some minutes.

November 28, 2002 Full Review Source: DVD Clinic
DVD Clinic

I did not care much for the last part of the film, but the three-quarters of it is good enough that I'm recommending it.

November 12, 2002 Full Review Source: Laramie Movie Scope
Laramie Movie Scope

Even though it is infused with the sensibility of a video director, it doesn't make for completely empty entertainment

November 3, 2002 Full Review Source: Matinee Magazine
Matinee Magazine

often successful in capturing the turbulent emotions of the early teen years... not nearly as convincing when it attempts to create a believable environment or forge a dramatic path.

October 26, 2002 Full Review Source: Kalamazoo Gazette
Kalamazoo Gazette

Worth seeing (at least the first 90 minutes) for Hirsch, Malone and Culkin.

October 21, 2002 Full Review Source: San Diego Metropolitan
San Diego Metropolitan

Aged cliches and gimmicks vie with fresh ideas for supremacy in The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys; the outcome at best is a draw.

October 15, 2002 Full Review Source: Cincinnati Enquirer
Cincinnati Enquirer

'The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys manages to capture that impossible time when idealism clashes with reality and religion, wrapped inside a delicious nostalgia...'

October 4, 2002 Full Review Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Metro Times (Detroit, MI)

... a lingering, haunting sensibility that shades characters with ambiguous grays compels us to consider forgiving even the most evil characters

September 1, 2002 Full Review Source: Old School Reviews

A...cynical and serious look at teenage boys doing what they do best - being teenagers.

August 19, 2002 Full Review Source: Movie Views

The film does a good job bringing out the fragile and sensitive sides to teens who are searching for answers adults can't give them.

August 18, 2002 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

Too dark for teens; too far into the comic vision for adults.

August 2, 2002 Full Review Source: ReelTalk Movie Reviews
ReelTalk Movie Reviews

Cannot summarize - wonderful story, presentation, and performances. Please read review.

August 1, 2002 Full Review

The film's gamble to occasionally break up the live-action scenes with animated sequences pays off, as does its sensitive handling of some delicate subject matter.

July 29, 2002
Creative Loafing

Hirsch... may one day realize the insouciant duality of River Pheonix's hope and fatalism that helped identify [him] with his generation of popular culture.

July 24, 2002 Full Review Source: Apollo Guide
Apollo Guide

Audience Reviews for The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys

Based on the title, you might think this has something to do with the church sex abuse scandals that were all over the media around the time this film came out. In actuality, it's based on a book (which I haven't read) about two best friends and altar boys in the 1970s who resort to making their own lurid comic book, pulling dnagerous and risky pranks, and casually experimenting with drugs and alcohol to deal with boredom. There's more to it of course, such as the boys dealing with various facets of growing up and learning life lessons.

What sets the film apart are some bombastic and very colorful animated sequences which parallel the main action and help to flesh out some stuff (mostly inner thoughts and feelings) that is probably elaborated far more in the book (which is probably better anyway. I did like this though, because it is entertaining, and it's got some great music Marco Beltrami and Josh Homme, as well as some credible actors giving some credible performances.

Despite the terrific work from Culkin, Hirsch, Malone, D'Onofrio, and Foster, and the great animation work from Todd McFarlane, this film feels very uneven and it tries to blend a lot of stuff together, including some rather really dark revelations about a certain character. I didn't think it gelled all that well, especially since some of the shifts in tone can be quite jarring. I didn't think it was enough to totally sink the movie, though. I just think it could have been handled better, namely with some stronger writing.The movie could have done a tad better job of establishing the time and place, but that's really just a bitchy nitpick.

All in all, this movie is flawed, but it has good intentions, and the animated stuff is really cool. Plus, seeing D'Onofrio and Foster as a priest and a nun respectively was an odd joy for me, and I thought those were some surprising (in a good way) touches. You should maybe give this a watch. It could be better, but it's decent enough for a rainy day watch.
September 25, 2011
Chris Weber

Super Reviewer

I hate the phrase 'Coming of age' but until I can think of a better one it will have to do. Of course growing up was never this cool for me and I was an Alter Boy, it was far more awkward. That said, what it does capture, quite brilliantly, is the conflict with hypocrisy that adult life can bring - using animation, bad romance and an angry Nun to symbolise adolescent angst in its many forms and guises. A very pleasant discovery - in the bargain bin no less. A great film, let down by poor marketing.
November 18, 2010

Super Reviewer

CAST: Emile Hirsch, Kieran Culkin, Jena Malone, Jodie Foster, Vincent D'Onofrio, Jake Richardson, Tyler Long, Kelvin O'Bryant


SUMMARY: When a gang of eighth-grade Catholic school students (including Kieran Culkin and Emile Hirsch) gets caught drawing an obscene comic book, they seek revenge for their punishment -- and a reputation as school legends -- by planning a prank on a mean, one-legged nun (Jodie Foster).

MY THOUGHTS: "This film had everything in it from hypocrisy, incest, animation, death, and religion. I guess a bit of everything. The film had the feel of the movie 'Stand By Me' when it comes to the four boys relationships. Just really good acting from all the young cast. It makes the movie that much more enjoyable when the acting is good and believable. The story itself is honest and funny. It's also sad. The way Kieran's character is mostly acting out just to get his parents to notice him. Jena Malone's character is seriously disturbed and needs a good therapist. I really felt bad for her, and yet kinda grossed out by what she did to her brother. The ending was unexpected and totally made me cry. The poem he read is what broke me, lol. If you were a rebel in school then you will relate or like this movie. Its definitely worth the watch. Great story and really good acting, especially by Hirsch and Culkin."
June 25, 2010

Super Reviewer

A movie about tweens that can't be seen by tweens, completely useless. I liked the cast and their were some good early performances from Kieren Culkin and Emile Hirsch, but it was just way too childish a movie. Instead of being original, it was just really corny and pointless.
January 7, 2010

Super Reviewer

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