HIGH School may leave viewers disappointed
Published: Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Updated: Saturday, June 2, 2012 14:06
Question: What do you get when you mix together a valedictorian, a stoner, a ruthless principal, an insane drug dealer and some very special brownies at a high school bake sale?
Answer: A recipe for chaos in the form of John Stalberg Jr.’s feature directorial debut HIGH School.
HIGH School, which is coming to theaters on Friday, features Matt Bush as Henry Burke, an uptight valedictorian who is days away from his high school graduation and a shiny new life at MIT. His perfect future is jeopardized when he reconnects with an old-friend-turned-pothead, Breaux (Sean Marquette) and decides in a moment of weakness to try his first hit of marijuana – unluckily, a day before his school principal (The Shield’s Michael Chiklis in a perfectly awful hairpiece) institutes a zero-tolerance drug policy complete with an impromptu school-wide drug test. Now in danger of losing his college scholarship and being expelled, Henry and Breaux team up to beat the system in a big way: get the whole school to fail the test by replacing the bake sale goodies with brownies laced with powerful and valuable THC crystals stolen from the town’s notorious drug dealer/former law student, Psycho Ed (Adrien Brody).
If it sounds like a lot, it is. Stalberg, with the help of Stephen Susco and Erik Linthorst, wrote the script by expanding upon an earlier short story that he wrote titled “Intramural,” and it falls into the same traps that many directors fall into when they try to adapt shorter material to a feature-length film. Simply put, this movie tries to be too many things at once – a bromance story, a stoner comedy, a heist film – it even throws in an unnecessary and oddly placed romance for good measure. As a result, the stakes are lowered and the audience is left feeling a little bit disconnected from the characters. This, unfortunately, keeps the movie from transitioning from a “good stoner comedy” to a “good comedy featuring stoners” (and yes, there is a significant difference).
Also, because of the strange pacing due to too many underdeveloped plots and characters, many of the jokes suffer. Most of the recurring jokes were effective, though even those came close to being run into the ground. Other jokes fell flat before they even got off the ground – such as the suggestion that almost every authority figure in the school struggles with some kind of barely hidden perversion, climaxing in a particularly tasteless scene that bordered on sexual assault more than it did comedy.
To its credit, the movie does have its fair share of laughs, and this is due mostly to the entertaining performances of the actors. Bush and Marquette play off of each other well, and Chiklis and Brody especially shine as they clearly have fun with roles different from their usual types. Colin Hanks’ performance as the assistant principal is also of note; he plays possibly the only well-adjusted authority figure at the school, and his priceless reactions helped to balance out Chiklis’ ridiculous, unhinged principal.
The main struggle with this movie is the writing, but it is a promising first outing for Stalberg as a director. During a roundtable interview, both Hanks and Bush raved about working with Stalberg.
“To speak for myself, I’m a fan of his just because of the process [of making a film with him],” Bush said.
“You can never really know how a director is going to be on set, but chances are it’s not their first time directing, it’s just their first time on that scale,” Hanks said. “John never struck me as first time guy who didn’t know what he wanted or how to communicate it. He’s extremely capable, and he ran the set smoothly and efficiently as seasoned directors. I’d work with him again in a heartbeat.”
HIGH School premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. It will be distributed in theaters by Anchor Bay Films on Friday.