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When Nietzsche advised, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” he probably never imagined the nugget could be applied to eating earthworms. But it’s the unwitting strategy of the naturally picked-on new student in How to Eat Fried Worms, the big-screen version of the 1973 novel by Thomas Rockwell (son of Norman). The movie, actually, shares little with the book, with writer-director Bob Dolman (scripter of 1988 children’s fantasy Willow) concentrating the ick: Instead of having to eat 15 worms in 15 days raw or cooked, and with any condiment desired for the big prize of $50, 11-year-old Billy (Luke Benward), who is previously shown to have a weak stomach, is challenged to eat 10 worms in one day without getting sick. The bet is made on Billy’s first day at school, when bully Joe (Adam Hicks) fills Billy’s thermos with creepy crawlers and yells across the cafeteria that the new kid eats worms. In a moment of bravery, Billy answers that yes, he eats worms all the time, as a matter of fact, and flings one in Joe’s face. “That was really stupid!” Billy laments to too-tall outcast Erika (Hallie Kate Eisenberg). (He doesn’t seem quite as worried when she admits that she loved the stunt.) The conditions are that Joe and his gang prepare the worms, turning them into even grosser concoctions such as the Barfmallow and Greasy Brown Toad Bloater Special, and the loser has to walk through school with a pantsful of slimers. Fried Worms will joyfully freak out the youngsters as each worm goes down, and the characters are rather likable, especially Benward’s Billy, who clutches his head like an adult without his Xanax and lets his true goofiness peek through his faux bravado. But the movie has dubious lessons: Since when does “standing up” to a bully mean doing exactly as he demands? The big event, too, is planned on a day when Billy is watching his little brother, Woody (Ty Panitz), ensuring that no parents are around, even when the gang goes from kitchen to kitchen to make like Emeril (the Burning Fireball is seasoned with a “Bam! Bam! Bam!”). Chances are, though, that your tykes will remember only the squirming, and at least it won’t be the kind that more yawn-inducing kids flicks bring on.—Tricia Olszewski