A terminally lame puberty comedy about a prematurely bald 13-year-old, “Harold” flatlines even a Fred Willard proctologist cameo. This low-budget nerd-revenge laffer, from former “Saturday Night Live” scribe T. Sean Shannon, first took shape as an “SNL” skit and has failed to develop further, its half-baked ideas suited to high-concept schtick but unable to stay the feature-length course. Singularly lacking the sharply honed weapons of the payback genre, pic overuses Cuba Gooding Jr. for all its would-be comic turnarounds. Following a limited July 11 opening, one can only imagine “Harold” playing to a rapidly dwindling audience of hairless adolescents.
Pic’s main conceit finds Harold (Spencer Breslin) adapting to his male pattern baldness by assuming the traits of an elderly man, complete with bunions, a stooped gait and a predilection for “Murder, She Wrote.” His small Pennsylvania hometown has embraced his oddities, making him an avuncular mainstay of the community.
But when Harold’s mother (Ally Sheedy, in yet another overwhelmed-single-mom role) moves to a bigger town, much to the delight of his mall-addicted older sister Shelly (Stella Maeve), Harold runs the gauntlet of cliched junior-high tormenters, from a sadistic gym teacher (Chris Parnell) to a class bully, fellow misfits and an unattainable lady fair. His baldness also subjects him to the amorous attentions of a septuagenarian sexpot neighbor (Suzanne Shepherd) amid a string of misconceptions about his actual age.
Befriended by school janitor Cromer (Gooding), triggering endless denial-of-pedophilia routines, Harold is encouraged to avenge himself on his gym teacher and win the school’s all-important go-kart race in a souped-up Rascal. Though the setup calls for the usual nerd reliance on intelligence and ingenuity, Harold proves surprisingly low on brainpower, depending on the kindness of friends.
Beyond the tiredness of the gags, trotted out without much panache or conviction, pic lacks a cohesive main character. Breslin proves unable to turn Harold’s collection of geriatric tics into a cute, amusing or even convincingly grotesque persona (unlike Amy Sedaris’ similar turn as a menopausal high schooler in “Strangers With Candy”).
Pic’s opening small-town scenes, ringmastered by Harold himself in direct address to the audience (shades of “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Malcolm in the Middle”), establishes a certain self-knowledge that initially functions as personality. But beyond the expository one-liners, the character has nothing to say to the camera and nowhere to go with his bits of business, bunions and dropped-in titles of superannuated TV shows.
Thesping rarely transcends the limitations of the script. Nikki Blonsky (“Hairspray”) manages to infuse her fat girlfriend-wannabe with welcome effervescence, and only Colin Quinn, among numerous ex-“SNL” bit players, carves out a viably sleazy comfort zone.
Tech credits are undistinguished.