If I was going to judge 'HairBrained' by its cover (poster?), I'd have assumed the movie was some raunchy and/or obnoxious comedy (possibly about tennis) and steered clear of it.
However, despite the ridiculous appearance of stars Alex Wolff and Brendan Fraser on the cover (Fraser looks like he's trying to play his tennis racket like a ukulele -- and, nice hair, both of you), I decided to give 'HairBrained' a chance. The film turned out to be a flawed, yet more-or-less decent indie comedy that perhaps tried a little *too* hard to be "quirky", but managed to avoid being overly obnoxious. Oh, and, incidentally, the movie has almost nothing to do with tennis (the two leads play briefly in one scene, and that's it).
Instead, 'HairBrained' centers on 14-year-old genius Eli Pettifog (Wolff) and his efforts to fit in at the fictional Whittman College, the small and seemingly unremarkable school where he's just enrolled as a student. Eli would have preferred Harvard (which rejected him), so from the start he isn't the happiest at Whittman; he also very quickly finds himself dealing with much teasing about his age, his "genius" status, and his hair, and he's forced to try to outwit a bully or two.
Still, Eli is able to strike up a friendship with his 41-year-old roommate across the hallway, Leo Searly (Fraser) -- who (despite being a self-described "late bloomer" himself) becomes a sort of mentor to the younger student. Eventually, with some help from Leo, Eli discovers after joining the school trivia team that he can use his genius to his advantage. In fact, Eli's presence on the team becomes his full-fledged ticket to popularity; after the team wins round after round of an ongoing college trivia competition, they wind up with a coveted spot in the finals playing against none other than... Harvard, the very school that rejected Eli.
There are a couple of other subplots in 'HairBrained', too. Which is actually the film's biggest drawback -- with so much going on, the result is that certain conflicts don't really go anywhere and certain storylines feel rushed or underdeveloped. This is especially the case with Fraser's character; a subplot about Leo's relationship with his estranged college-bound daughter is fairly interesting, yet comes out of left field and resolves almost immediately after it begins.
Also, while not as obnoxious as the cover first implied, 'HairBrained' is still a college movie (and a college comedy, at that) so a certain degree of obnoxiousness feels almost inevitable. Sure enough, the film includes its fair share of characters that made me roll my eyes pretty hard (such as the "bully" who acts more like a caricature of an elementary school bully than a college student -- or Eli himself, who whines throughout half the movie). The scene where several of the characters "relieve" themselves on a campus lawn is just stupid.
Meanwhile, slightly less annoying on the character front is the such-a-minor-role-that-she-doesn't-even-get-a-name "Perky Girl", played by Kimiko Glenn. Some might recognize Glenn as "Brook Soso" from "Orange is the New Black"; and fittingly (as her moniker might suggest) "Perky Girl" in her handful of scenes acts remarkably like... Brook Soso.
On a more positive note -- thanks to Fraser's natural likability, HIS character (who could have easily came across as irritating or even borderline creepy) is actually somewhat endearing, if not the most developed as a character. That said, "Leo Searly, late bloomer" (as he introduces himself more than once in the movie -- what a cool guy) was kind of pushing it in that weird, brief scene where he's lying around in his dorm room, uh... flicking a crumpled strip of paper into his belly button (?! and, ew!) while muttering some sort of commentary. Whatever THAT was.
(Also, what was the deal with Leo's "old man" wardrobe; was it meant to illustrate just how much older he was than the other students? If so: he was 41, costume designer, not 81.)
Anyhow, even if this movie isn't the greatest, I do think that these indie films suit Fraser (and would rather see him in something low-budget like this than another 'Mummy' movie). Speaking of indie films -- the Indie Queen herself, Parker Posey, shows up in a VERY brief role in 'HairBrained' as Eli's mother, which was a pleasant surprise.
Otherwise, I enjoyed some of the trivia contest scenes (I even learned a few facts while watching them). And Fraser and Wolff effectively convey the unexpected friendship between their mismatched-yet-similar characters.
However, all in all, 'HairBrained' still feels somehow lacking in the end. Yes, it's better than it looks, and certainly the movie isn't a complete waste of time; just be prepared to not be blown away should you decide to watch it. (5/10)