High School High

(Hart Bochner, USA, 1996)


In 1981, Larry Cohen’s parodic teen-horror-comedy Full Moon High started a trend with its depiction of school life. The most inspired gag in that movie compared a "typical" high school corridor from the ’50s – innocent teens passing love notes at the lockers – with its ’80s equivalent: a ceaseless riot of beatings, drug taking and graffiti spraying.

Over fifteen years later, another deliberately dopey comedy in the parodic tradition, High School High, is still able to milk laughs from this type of contrast.

Richard (Jon Lovitz) swaps his job at a privileged private school for a new position in a violently dysfunctional educational establishment in the ghetto. As Richard drives across the territorial line separating middle class from underclass, he discovers that his car radio can no longer broadcast The Carpenters – only menacing black rap music.

The trick to these movies (also evident in A Very Brady Sequel [1996]) is that every image – whether of suburban innocence or inner-city decadence – is equally second-hand. Characters, plot twists, songs on the soundtrack, moral messages: everything is a low-down, snickering quotation of some slick, overblown product.

The main target of the fun here is the wave of risible films about inspirational teachers helping kids to shake a life of crime and enter decent society. Familiar highpoints from movies such as Stand and Deliver (1988) and Dangerous Minds (1995) are pastiched and made to look even more ludicrous than in the originals.

High School High is in the venerable tradition of the Naked Gun series and Mad magazine’s movie satires. Director Hart Bochner does not give proceedings much zip except in the boisterous scenes of comic violence – slapstick mayhem that allows Lovitz’s straight sidekick Tia Carrere to shine.

This is an elementary but pleasing pop movie for those who enjoy deriding Hollywood’s more pompous cornball achievements. A special tip: leave the theatre before the final credits are over, and you will miss perhaps the most delicious, carefully worked out gag in the whole film.

© Adrian Martin January 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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