By Annlee Ellingson
3:00 PM EDT, September 26, 2013
The setup of "The Secret Lives of Dorks" may be familiar: Comic-book geek Payton (Gaelan Connell) is in love with cheerleader Carrie (Riley Voelkel), who already has a jock boyfriend, Clark (Beau Mirchoff), while fellow nerd Samantha (Vanessa Marano) pines for Payton. But from there, Johnny Severin and Nicholas David Brandt's otherwise clever and original script takes an unexpected turn at nearly every intersection, resulting in a funny and big-hearted coming-of-age romance.
For one thing, the voiceover narration isn't limited to Payton, slipping into Carrie's point-of-view as she decides to help him woo Samantha, mostly to divert the dork's attention from herself. But there's no villain here, not even Clark, who in any other high-school movie would fulfill the bully role. Instead, he goes along with Carrie's project while he pursues his own mysterious new pastime involving a crash course in comic books.
Meanwhile, there's a rich supporting cast that offers constant humorous chatter, despite some awkwardly shoehorned appearances by Seymour Cassel as the school principal. Jim Belushi, for example, plays Payton's Mike Ditka-obsessed dad, a gym coach who's teaching his 6-year-old daughter the ins and outs of Bears football and on whom one of his fellow teachers (Jennifer Tilly) has an irrepressible crush.
Director Salomé Breziner employs animation by Ben Bjelajac to illustrate Payton's wild speculations when his dad asks, "What's the worst that could happen?" and she adds fanciful enactments of texts rather than static screen messages for a dynamic visual palette with a hip rock 'n' roll soundtrack.
"The Secret Lives of Dorks"
MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual content throughout, and for language.
Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
Playing: At AMC Universal City, Los Angeles; UltraStar UltraLuxe Anaheim 14; Muvico Thousand Oaks 14. Also on VOD.
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