‘Alexander and the Terrible … Day’: Not quite good, not quite bad

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By Bruce Ingram/For Sun-Times Media

Disney’s bland comedy “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” might have been a little more entertaining if it had been a little more, terrible, horrible, no good and so forth.

Plenty of disastrous stuff happens in this bright, wholesome, inappropriately cheery adaptation of Judith Viorst’s children’s best-seller, and it happens nonstop, but most of it has little in the way of oomph. No matter how crazy things get for the Cooper family on this “Very Bad Day,” the calamities are shaken off with superficial reactions: a double-take, a deadpan arched eyebrow, a shriek perhaps. Then it’s on to the next mishap. There’s little real sense that anything serious is at stake — and, in comedy, meager stakes mean meager laughs.

In Viorst’s book, only young Alexander is having a terrible time. But the movie version spreads the misfortune around after 12-year-old Alex (Ed Oxenbould) suffers through a bad school day and considers his busy family insufficiently sympathetic. Half-seriously, he makes a birthday wish that they, too, will know what it feels like to live through a day where everything goes wrong. And they do. Big brother Anthony (Dylan Minnette) sprouts a giant pimple and encounters major girlfriend problems on the day of the junior prom. Big sister Emily (Kerris Dorsey) comes down with a whopping cold on the day of her starring role in “Peter Pan.” Publishing rep Mom (Jennifer Garner) has to cope with an embarrassing misprint in a “Jump on the Potty” children’s book. And unemployed Dad (Steve Carell, projecting almost endless positivity and restraint) has to take baby Trevor along for a crucial job interview — with indelibly memorable results involving a green magic marker.

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All that’s just for starters, of course, during a day that includes major minivan damage, a beloved celebrity having a hissy fit and a rampaging crocodile — but, again, nothing makes much of an impact. Not even the doomed middle-school production of “Peter Pan,” which seems to have been inspired by an account of a catastrophic production of the show that’s a recurring audience favorite on “This American Life.”

That’s too bad, because director Miguel Arteta has a knack for dark, edgy comedy (his 2009 “Youth in Revolt” in particular). And he probably could have instilled a touch of genuine disaster and a couple of genuine laughs in “Alexander” if he’d been given the chance, without sacrificing family friendliness.

That would have involved a risk, though, which involves the possibility that something could go wrong. And that’s the last thing a play-it-safe movie like this wants to do.

[s3r star=2.5/4]

Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Miguel Arteta and written by Rob Lieber. Running time: 81 minutes. Rated PG (for rude humor including some reckless behavior and language).

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