Bully psychology -- They’re awful! They’re cool! -- gets a middling workout in “The Education of Charlie Banks,” a campus drama set in the late ‘70s to early ‘80s, when gawkward Ivy League student Charlie (Jesse Eisenberg) is thrown into close quarters with Mick (Jason Ritter), the charming thug of his schoolyard past. Something tells me the “education” from the title of Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst’s directorial debut won’t be found in books but in life! (Durst’s second film, “The Longshots,” was released first, last summer.)
Nervous Charlie had a brief stint on Mick’s radar back in Greenwich Village, then managed to escape after one of Mick’s criminally violent outbursts spurred Charlie to secretly rat him out. When Mick pops up in his dorm room years later -- as if summoned by the “Raging Bull” poster on Charlie’s wall -- the handsome bruiser becomes the student, insinuating himself into Charlie’s group of privileged, pretentious chums and wooing the hot rich girl (Eva Amurri) Charlie pines for. But is Mick a wolf in sheep’s clothing?
It’s not hard to see what Durst -- whose music wraps moralistic pleas in raucous metal-rap -- saw in screenwriter Peter Elkoff’s story: the chance for a rocker in indie-flick waters to show a brute’s sensitive side yet revel in his casual menace. And if the normally appealing Eisenberg seems stuck in jangly nerd gear, Durst effectively showcases in Ritter the anything’s-possible elements roiling in Mick.
But too often Durst’s direction is overly earnest, heavy in long takes, atmosphere wise but scene foolish. It’s like tea with your 5-year-old daughter: handsomely presentational but mostly an experiment in playing grown-up.
I’m not against the crossover urge, but what makes an old hand at quick, short blasts of sonic energy think material like this has to drip with meaning rather than be enjoyably nail-biting and nasty?
‘The Education of Charlie Banks’
MPAA rating: R for pervasive language, some violence, sexual content, and drug and alcohol use
Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes
Playing: At Laemmle’s Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500, and Laemmle’s Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, (310) 394-9741