Development began in 1998, and the theatrical release for the United States and Canada was August 25, 2006. The film stars Luke Benward, Adam Hicks, Hallie Eisenberg, Austin Rogers, Andrew Gillingham, Alexander Gould, Blake Garrett, and Philip Daniel Bolden. The film received mixed reviews from critics.
A young, naive boy named Billy Forrester (Luke Benward) has a weak stomach and vomits easily. He and his parents, Mitch (Tom Cavanagh), Helen (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), and his little brother, Woody (Ty Panitz), have just moved to a new town. Billy tells his mother that he doesn't want to go to school because he will be "the new kid". She assures him that he will make friends and everything will be okay.
At school, however, he becomes the target of the school bully, Joe Guire (Adam Hicks), his two "toaders" named Plug (Blake Garrett) and Bradley (Philip Daniel Bolden), and the rest of his gang: Benjy (Ryan Malgarini), Techno-Mouth (Andrew Gillingham), Twitch (Alexander Gould), and Donny (Alexander Agate). They rudely stare at him and call him "Billy F." (which is how his name is written on his lunch box). Plug and Bradley steal his lunch box. He sits behind Erika Tansy (Hallie Eisenberg), an unusually tall girl whom people make fun of (calling her "Erk").
At lunch, Billy opens his thermos and pours out a pile of live earthworms. Sickened, he almost vomits before regaining strength. Then, confident, he throws one on Joe's face. A nerd named Adam Simms (Austin Rogers) was sure that Joe was going to smash Billy with his ring ("The Death Ring"), which is rumored that whoever Joe punches it with dies in the eighth grade.
The next day after school, Joe, Plug, and Benjy catch up with Billy as he heads home. Joe proposes a bet: Billy must eat ten worms in one day (the coming Saturday) without throwing up, and the loser has to come to school with worms in his pants and walk down the hall past everybody. Billy knows that he cannot back out of the bet, so he accepts.
The next day, Billy is teamed up with Adam Simms. After eating the first worm, "Le Big Porker," the gang gets caught by a park security guard for using a grill in the park without adult supervision but outruns him. Billy becomes more confident with each worm that he swallows.
While cooking the second/third worm, "The Greasy Brown Toad Bloater Special," at Adam's uncle's (Clint Howard) restaurant, they get kicked out for having the worms in the restaurant. After Billy eats the fourth one, "The Burning Fireball," and burns his mouth, Twitch and Techno-Mouth quit Joe's team and become his new best friends. At the playground, Billy eats the next two worms, "Barfmallo," and "Peanut Butter And Worm Jam Sandwich."
After dinner, the boys go to a bait shop to eat their next two worms, "The Green Slusher" and "Radioactive Slime Delight." The owner of the bait shop (Jo Ann Farabee) tries to chase them for shoplifting the two worms. After Joe cheats in an attempt to keep Billy from eating the last worm, "Worm A La Mud," in time, all of his gang joins Billy's team. Billy eats the final worm before the deadline. Nigel Guire (Nick Krause), Joe's brother, who has been watching, tries to bully and humiliate him for losing. Billy and the rest of the gang stand up for him, telling Nigel to leave him alone, and he leaves.
After thinking it over that night, Billy returns to school. He explains to Joe that the second worm was eaten by Burdock after it was accidentally put in his omelet at the Brown Toad. Since they both lost the bet, they both put worms in their pants and the other kids watch them. They are then interrupted by Burdock, who nearly catches them when a worm falls out of Billy's pants, which Joe covers up. After Burdock returns to his office, the kids all run outside and celebrate as Billy and Joe both take the worms out of their pants and throw them into the air.Luke Benward as Billy "Wormboy" Forrester
Hallie Kate Eisenberg as Erika "Erk" Tansy
Adam Hicks as Joe Guire
Tom Cavanagh as Mitch Forrester
Kimberly Williams-Paisley as Helen Forrester
Austin Rogers as Adam
Alexander Gould as Twitch
Ryan Malgarini as Benjamin "Benjy" Renfro
Philip Daniel Bolden as Bradley
Clint Howard as Uncle Ed
Ty Panitz as Woody Forrester
James Rebhorn as Principal Nelson "Boilerhead" Burdock
Andrew Gillingham as Techno Mouth
Blake Garrett as Plug
Alexander Agate as Donny
Nick Krause as Nigel Guire
Andrea Martin as Mrs. Bommley
David Bewley as Rob Simon
Karen Wacker as Mrs. Simon
Simone White as Woody's teacher
The film debuted at #11, with $4,003,537 in the United States and Canada. It closed seven weeks later, with a total of $13,040,527 domestically, and $55,787 overseas, for a worldwide total of $13,096,314.
The film mostly received mixed reviews. Rotten Tomatoes shows the film as being rotten with a 59% rating. The site's consensus reads: "This Fear Factor for kids is good-natured and tasty enough." Metacritic gave the film a metascore of 56 (mixed or average reviews).
The Filthy Critic gave the film four out of five "fingers" for its realistic portrayal of how children really act. ReelViews' James Berardinelli gave a mildly positive review (2½ stars out of 4) but thought the potential audience too narrow: "It's aimed at pre-teen males and doesn't make many concessions to members of other demographics." and went on to say:
How to Eat Fried Worms belongs to a vanishing breed – live action family films. Even the best of the genre (like Holes and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants) don't draw large audiences, so mediocre productions like this one face an uphill struggle.
The Boston Globe's reviewer – Ty Burr – gave it a 2 stars out of 4 and said when comparing the book to the film:
There's a kid named Billy, and he eats worms on a dare, and that's about all the movie has in common with its source. Truth to tell, that's all the movie needs to have in common with its source. "This is really disgusting," my 9-year-old's friend whispered to her during the screening. Then he added , "But I like it."
From a parent's viewpoint, two feet higher off the ground, How to Eat Fried Worms is lackadaisical stuff, easily the least of the unpretentious children's book adaptations produced by family-oriented Walden Media (Because of Winn-Dixie, Hoot, Holes).
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