Anchor Bay // 2009 // 86 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Erich Asperschlager // April 13th, 2009
Life is what you learn between the sheets.
Imagine describing raunchy '80s teen comedies to someone who's never seen one before. Then imagine that person describing the conversation to someone else, years later, after forgetting most of the details. Then imagine that third person using the twice-removed description as the basis for a first screenplay, which gets picked up by a director who decides to turn it into a movie, then loses the only copy of the script, but makes the movie anyway. Chances are, that movie would be American High School, an incoherent mess of a sex comedy that's neither funny nor sexy.
Gwen (Jillian Murray, An American Carol) is the least popular person in school for some reason. She's married to fellow senior Holden (Talan Torriero, Laguna Beach) -- also, for some reason -- an exhibitionist who gets her to have sex in various public places. During an assembly about the upcoming prom, Gwen and Holden break into the principal's office and engage in vigorous lovemaking on his desk, during which she hits the loudspeaker button and broadcasts their tryst to the entire school. After the incident, Gwen is branded the "school whore" (the label of choice, apparently, for a woman who has sex with her husband), and the principal (Martin Klebba, Pirates of the Carribean) is ousted by an irate PTA who should really be more irate about the fact that he regularly and openly accepts sexual favors from students. Things get worse for Gwen when she finds out she might be pregnant. Instead of telling her husband why she's upset, though, she lets him fall into the arms of her rival, rich bitch Hilary (Aubrey O'Day, Making the Band 3). Oh, and her dad (Hoyt Richards, When Night Falls) is a former TV star who hangs around the school seducing her classmates and sleeping with the bombshell art teacher/vice principal (Nikki Ziering, American Wedding). With prom fast approaching, Gwen comes up with a plan to get even with Hilary, help the principal get his job back, and pour cold water on her father's lecherous ways.
American High School has all the trappings of a by-the-book teen sex comedy: the put-upon protagonist, the big dance, the threat of not graduating, the snobby rival, the slutty teacher, and the plan to make sure everyone who deserves it gets their comeuppance. That it fails miserably can be chalked up to a boring story with hardly any sex.
Why bury the lead? Chances are, if you're interested in this movie, it's because you expect to see flesh. You'll be disappointed. There are exactly one pair of bare breasts in the movie, and they belong to Playboy Playmate Nikki Ziering, whose art teacher character pulls down the lingerie top she's wearing while teaching a class -- one scene that's as ridiculous as it sounds. But just because there's no nudity doesn't mean the movie lacks raunch. It's awash in smutty dialogue and suggestive "jokes" based almost entirely on the idea that the adults of American High School (the actual name of the school, by the way) spend their days getting it on with their students. A throwaway comment suggests that everyone is of legal age, but there's something disturbing about a principal who surrounds himself by blond students who service him, a male nurse who tries to take advantage of young girls, and a grown man who doesn't work at the school but spends all his time there anyway, having over-the-clothes threesomes with students on the bleachers during an assembly. It's like your average school day at To Catch a Predator High.
The creepy adult/student stuff isn't the worst of it, though. American High School claims to have been written and directed by Sean Patrick Cannon. He may have written a script, but as far as I can tell no one followed it. For every line of dialogue that moves the plot forward, there are three that feel like they were made up on the spot by the actors. Letting everyone riff might have seemed like a good idea at the time, and I bet everyone had fun cracking each other up on set, but it makes for a confusing movie. People say and do things that make no sense, or contradict what's supposed to be happening in the story. They go off on tangents, killing momentum to ham it up for the camera. Guys randomly lose their shirts. Characters who are supposed to be upset suddenly start laughing, only to look sad again in the next shot. I feel sorry for the editor, having to make a coherent movie out of what are essentially outtakes. My guess is that they blew their continuity budget on Nikki Ziering's topless scene.
The main bonus feature is an audio commentary with the director, producer, and four of the actors. It's a pretty lighthearted affair. Cannon talks a bit about making the movie, but mostly everyone just jokes around. They laugh at American High School a lot more than I did, and they seem like a tight-knit bunch. I almost feel bad about slamming the movie they made. There's also a collection of deleted scenes. Sometimes DVD extras give you the option of watching scenes with audio commentary. This disc doesn't give you the option of watching them without the commentary, meaning you can't hear any of the actual dialogue. It's weird.
Is it a compliment to say I wouldn't have expected a movie this bad to look this good? We're not talking reference disc here, but it looks like someone put a lot of money behind the production. The colors are solid, the details are sharp-ish, and there's even the occasional special effect. The 5.1 soundtrack isn't all that immersive, but it gets the job done. If you walked in on someone watching this movie you might think it was a regular Hollywood release.
American High School is a tough movie to like. It spends more time on random raunchy dialogue than establishing character or setting up jokes. What story there is alternates between offensive and confusing. Even with needless improvised padding, it clocks in at a paltry 86 minutes. And for a sex comedy, flesh is kept to a bare minimum. It seems like everyone who made it had fun, but that's probably because no one made them watch it.
Is there a grade lower than F-minus? Guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes