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Elijah Wood, Alison Pill and Rainn Wilson run wild in horror comedy 'Cooties'

Elijah Wood, Alison Pill and Rainn Wilson run wild in horror comedy 'Cooties'
Actor Elijah Wood, best known for portraying Frodo Baggins in Peter Jackson's blockbuster Lord of the Rings film trilogy, stars in "Cooties." (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

What grade-school teachers know, but may not want to express, is that as noble as the profession is, it sometimes requires squelching the desire to pop certain brats in the face.

From that unspoken no-no comes the horror comedy "Cooties," a semi-spirited live-action cartoon about infected zombie schoolkids. It's by two writers, Leigh Whannell and Ian Brennan, who have each co-fathered pop culture spawn ("Saw" and "Glee," respectively) occasionally deserving of their own punches to the kisser.

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For a half-hour or so, "Cooties" has barbed fun with food safety (a local chicken-processing plant is responsible for the outbreak), eccentric sad-sack teachers (energetically played by Elijah Wood, Alison Pill, Rainn Wilson, writer Whannell and others) and rabid children trying to get into the school to eat their daytime tormentors.

First-time feature directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion keep a good pace and show some comic flair with performance and visuals. But as with most of these genre-tweaking romps, the fizz dissipates and what's left are obvious gore beats, lame jokes, uninspired plot mechanics and an inability to end the mayhem satisfactorily. With "Cooties," what starts as recess fades all too rapidly into movie detention.

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"Cooties."

MPAA rating: R for horror violence and gore, language including sexual references, drug use.

Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes.

Playing: ArcLight Hollywood.

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