Walking into How to Eat Fried Worms, the adaptation of a 1973 kid-lit classic that I remember enjoying back in grade school — not as much as Encyclopedia Brown but more than Hooples on the Highway — I had two questions: Why did we have to wait 33 years for the movie, and why did they have to make it now? To the first point, Fried Worms’ appeal is right there in its title, only the second-best title of the month (after Snakes on a Plane) but still maybe the second-best title of all time. They should’ve filmed it a generation ago. Especially instead of waiting till now, the grody age of Fear Factor, when it’s easy to imagine the movie going overboard on the gross-out stuff. We’re lucky they didn’t ”reimagine” it as How to Eat Fried Squirrel Sphincters.
Happily, after a cartoon opening-credits sequence that overdoes it on the barf, Worms goes light (but not too light) on the gore and the goo. The movie is still about a kid (Because of Winn-Dixie’s winning Luke Benward) who, strong-armed into a bet at school, has to eat creepy crawlers into the double digits, and once he gets started, the focus is more on boys being funny and weird than invertebrates getting microwaved. If only writer-director Bob Dolman hadn’t added on an unnecessarily rotten bully (Adam Hicks). Aren’t squiggly, wiggly worms — whether prepared with lard, marshmallow sauce, peanut butter, or a blender — antagonist enough?