CHARLIE BARTLETT directed Jon Poll, written by Gustin Nash, with Anton Yelchin, Robert Downey Jr. and Hope Davis. An MGM release. 107 minutes. Opens Friday (February 22). Rating: NNN
When I see Robert Downey Jr. playing a drunk in a movie, it gives me the creeps – in a good way. Everything I know about Downey and his substance abuse problems makes the scene feel almost too believable.
Movies are supposed to be all about artifice. But sometimes what’s on the screen is sweetly, or unbearably, real.
Why is Mr. And Mrs. Smith one of the sexiest movies ever made? Because the Brangelina team were falling in love on set and you can practically smell it in the theatre.
Ditto for all those Liz and Dick pix of the 60s, whether they were getting hot in Cleopatra or screaming at each other in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf.
So when Downey as a high school principal with a booze problem is hammered and waving a gun at Charlie Bartlett (Anton Yelchin), the hero, while holding a bottle in the other, you know Downey has more insight into his character than is healthy. But it sure does work.
On the other other hand, while Bartlett is distributing pharmaceuticals to his schoolmates in the boys’ washroom, it has a very different effect on me – it makes me wanna do some, too. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a preachy anti-drug movie (which this isn’t, by the way) that didn’t make me want to score immediately.
Sometimes charming and always energetic, Charlie Bartlett is aimed at a younger demographic without the 60s drug history, and it should find a willing audience.
It has strong performances, especially by Yeltsin, the rich kid who goes from pusher of drugs to purveyor of psychiatric advice at his new high school, Tyler Hilton as the school bully and Downey, who I’d gladly watch reading the phone book.