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Walden Lays 'Fried' Egg, Cruise-Paramount Split a Win-Win
by Scott Holleran
Luke Benward in How to Eat Fried Worms
August 24, 2006

Burbank, California—Whatever was charming about the popular children's book upon which New Line Cinema's How to Eat Fried Worms is based was wriggled right out of this latest stinker from Walden Media. Twentieth Century Fox's new creative partner is also responsible for the overwrought The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the vapid Around the World in 80 Days.

Having produced the environmentalist-themed Hoot and Disney's overrated Holes, Walden's prospects are looking dubious, both in terms of quality and commercial success. Their remake of Charlotte's Web is slated for Christmas release and Narnia sequels are on the way. Fox recently announced a development deal with Walden for family-oriented movies.

How to Eat Fried Worms, seen at a recent screening, is sorely lacking the popular 1973 book's apparent wit, rhyme and humor. As with previous Walden efforts, the adaptation is forced; under-edited, overproduced and unable to express a theme. The movie removes what's at stake in the bet at the center of the story, a wager over whether the protagonist can eat 15 worms in 15 days that is placed among a band of ten year-old boys. The kid in Thomas Rockwell's story bets fifty dollars because he wants a minibike. There is no trace of the boy wanting to buy, own and enjoy any material good in the movie.

Instead, it's one meaningless, repulsive display after another, with no particular point. The message—and it is mixed at best—is shoveled over as an afterthought. If this is what Fox considers family friendly, expect its roster to be full of low-grade mediocrities. "We make movies that are inherently educational," Walden's corporate Web site declares. With How to Eat Fried Worms as the latest example, it's beginning to look like Walden Media makes movies that aren't inherently anything but awful.

Tom Cruise in
Mission: Impossible III
Star Notes

This week's break between Tom Cruise and Paramount strikes me as win-win for both parties. Sumner Redstone is to be commended for letting loose a star whose pricey contract Paramount apparently regarded as disadvantageous and studios are definitely limited by having a pipeline dependent on celebrity contracts. Better movies may result. Mr. Cruise's War of the Worlds and Mission: Impossible III were some of his worst motion pictures.

On the other hand, pundits picking on the star's comments about a range of topics from drugs to religion are missing the point; Tom Cruise is losing his luster because his formulaic approach is stale and his big-budget movies stink, not necessarily because moviegoers are put off by his opinions, some of which actually make sense. His box office appeal will be restored the moment he starts making better movies, which he may feel rejuvenated to do with unnamed hedge funds footing the bill. Maybe Tom Cruise will make good, thought-provoking stories like Shattered Glass, the smart drama about modern journalism he produced a few years ago.

It doesn't matter whether Mr. Cruise quit or was fired and both parties stand to lose in the back-and-forth feeding frenzy. By most accounts, the relationship expired by mutual consent and new opportunities abound. Paramount is a studio with a great, rich history. Tom Cruise is a movie star with potential. Both ought to move along and focus on making better movies and more money.

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