Friday October 25, 1996
It wouldn't be fair to say that "High School High" uses up all its creativity in its title, but it wouldn't be that far from the truth either.
Starting with a hieroglyphic accompanied by a note explaining that it symbolizes "the producer formerly known as David Zucker," "High School High" has an opening five minutes characterized by the kind of rapid-fire parody humor that made Zucker's reputation when he and his brother Jerry and Jim Abrahams came up with "Airplane!" But not only doesn't the comedy last, it apparently went away because Zucker and his current team thought they had a better idea.
"High School High" begins in the ivied halls of Wellington Academy, run by pompous headmaster Thaddeus Clark (John Neville), where the phones are answered with a crisp, "Wellington Academy, are you white?"
Richard Clark, Thaddeus' son (Jon Lovitz), is not happy teaching under his father's domination, and despite an imminent promotion he decides to take a job with the history department of the more down-to-earth Marion Barry High School.
Clark's drive into Barry High, past a theater marquee promoting "Scarface: Fifth Consecutive Year" and a sign announcing "Inner City" that changes his radio sound to rap music, contains much of the film's sharpest material. What other school would have assigned parking spaces for SWAT teams and the National Guard, or hand out bumper stickers reading "Proud Parents of a D Average Student"?
Described as the place where "every bad kid in the city is dumped," multiethnic Barry High is gruffly run by its veteran principal, Mrs. Doyle (Louise Fletcher). More fun to be with is her svelte administrative assistant Victoria Chappell (Tia Carrere). And speaking up for the student body is Griff McReynolds (Mekhi Phifer of "Clockers"), just back from some serious time in Juvenile Hall.
This is a talented ensemble, but it's Lovitz, one of the funniest veterans of "Saturday Night Live," who is expected to carry the burden of the comedy, and with his wide eyes and oblivious look he is right for the job. As far as it goes.
For though the film's original idea was to spoof old movies about the high school experience, at a certain point writers Zucker, Robert LoCash and Pat Proft decided to be somewhat reality-based and focus more on character and story. It was not an inspired decision.
What resulted is a feeble, time-wasting scenario, poking mild fun at "Stand and Deliver" and "Dangerous Minds," about the attempt to get kids to learn. Hart Bochner's direction does not neglect the humor in these situations, but the laugh lines are mostly crude and the prevalent slapstick is weak and uneventful.
Most amusing are the film parodies that get thrown in, takeoffs on motion pictures like "Deer Hunter" and "Rebel Without a Cause." Perhaps that original parody idea was abandoned a little too soon.
High School High, 1996. PG-13, for crude sexual humor, partial nudity and some drug references. Released by TriStar Pictures. Director Hart Bochner. Producers David Zucker, Robert LoCash, Gil Netter. Executive producer Sasha Harari. Screenplay David Zucker, Robert LoCash, Pat Proft. Cinematographer Vernon Layton. Editor James R. Symons. Costumes Mona May. Music Ira Newborn. Production design Dennis Washington. Art director Tom Targownik. Set decorator Kathryn Peters. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes. Jon Lovitz as Richard Clark. Tia Carrere as Victoria Chappell. Mekhi Phifer as Griff McReynolds. Guillermo Diaz as Paco. John Neville as Thaddeus Clark. Malinda William as Natalie. Louise Fletcher as Mrs. Doyle.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun