Light It Up

(Craig Bolotin, USA, 1999)


The premise for Light It Up is a game mixture of Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and The Breakfast Club (1985).

A group of teens lock themselves into their New York school, holding Officer Jackson (Forest Whitaker) as hostage after a violent incident in which he accidentally shot himself.

Outside the school there are protests, news crews, police squads and students who claim to know the whole truth of what happened. Inside, the six desperados alternate between fear and lucidity – chilling out enough in the non-violent periods to probe each other's hopes and dreams.

As can be expected, none of these kids are really what they at first seem to be. The teen stereotypes – princess, home boy, slut, cool dude – fall away and fragile connections are made across social divisions.

The concept could have worked, but writer-director Craig Bolotin (making his first film since That Night in 1992) never finds the right tone.

Not content with canvassing most of the urban ills of our time (drugs, crime, alienation, child abuse, police brutality), Bolotin tries to include various pop fads as well – as in the unintentionally hilarious moment when Lynn (Sara Gilbert) yells "let's go global!", installing her comrades at an Internet terminal.

Bolotin takes a rock-video approach to filmmaking. Each scene has a primary mood – panic, melancholy or dread – which is heavily laid on via lighting and music. A flashback to the death of the father of Lester (Usher Raymond) is especially overwrought. And the supposed mysticism contained in the figure of Ziggy (Robert Ri'chard) – a wall-artist and naïf who longs to be a cross between Michelangelo and Basquiat – provides an easy cop-out from all the burning problems which the movie raises along the way.

MORE therapy in confinement: John Q

© Adrian Martin May 2000

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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