Anchor Bay // 2010 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // September 22nd, 2012
"Apple sauce; ten times a day."
"Where do they come up with all these clever names for recreational drug use?"
Henry Burke (Matt Bush) is on course to finish high school with the highest GPA in his year, not to mention being conferred the role of valedictorian. However, a chance encounter with old friend and renowned stoner Travis Breaux (Sean Marquette) puts his entire academic career at risk. Having reminisced with Breaux over old times, Burke "partakes" in smoking a doobie, just as the school principal (Michael Chiklis, The Shield) announces mandatory drug testing for the entire school -- a stoned student has embarrassed him at a national spelling bee -- with any student failing the test facing expulsion.
Realizing the drugs will still be in his system, Burke is forced to team up with Breaux in an audacious plan to get the entire school stoned, assuming that if everyone fails, nobody can be expelled.
A handful of memorable performances mean that writer-director John Stalberg's half-baked stoner comedy High School is still worth consideration, even if it is never quite as funny as it thinks it is.
Stalberg ensures his film has a high gag count, but falters on more than one occasion, with a couple of running gags quickly losing their steam -- as is evident early on when a joke revolving around an Asian student named Phuc starts to fall flat after only a couple of repetitions. Anyone hoping for a good story is also going to be left wanting, as the plot hinges on a number of coincidences to make Burke and Breaux's plan even remotely feasible, while Burke's decision to take up weed the night before his finals feels completely out of place for his character.
The film's structure sees the first half-hour deliver the setup, whilst the remaining hour is pretty much scene after scene of unwitting students and faculty members getting stoned. Admittedly, some of the scenarios are funny, but nothing gut-busting, and this succession of pratfalls and stoner talk leads to a saggy second act that could have done with some trimming. Then there's the problem of so many clichéd elements being introduced, including an unnecessary love interest and Adhir Kalyan's uber-competitive nerd, that the film plays like a mix tape of everything from National Lampoon's Animal House to Van Wilder. This lack of originality is at times crippling, especially as the film's two leads prove so unengaging.
Both Matt Bush and Sean Marquette, who play Henry Burke and Travis Breaux respectively, deliver solid enough performances, with both showing some nice comedic touches. Still, these are characters we've seen before -- far too many times -- and so their oddball relationship is simply a rehash of Superbad and any number of high school flicks dating back to the seventies. The background the two characters share feels forced, and attempts to introduce a little tension to their relationship simply don't work. Thankfully the support cast is full of far more memorable characters, which benefit from one or two unlikely casting decisions. How Adrien Brody ended up being cast in High School is something I'm not sure I'll ever understand, yet here he is, playing Psycho Ed no less, the local drug dealer par excellence. Brody, an actor more readily associated with serious films like The Pianist, apparently has a penchant for diversity -- as was seen in his starring role in Predators -- and is the best thing here, meaning that if his twitchy, slightly frog-obsessed performance doesn't do it for you, chances are High School is unlikely to be your cup of tea. Another surprise turn comes from Michael Chiklis, again playing wildly against type (not to mention being almost completely unrecognizable) as the uptight Principal Gordon. Chiklis benefits from a role that takes the lion's share of the quality jokes, and his barely concealed sexual frustration hits the mark every time it boils to the surface. With Colin Hanks playing his long-suffering assistant, showing all the usual Hanks charm and comedic timing, and the likes of Mykelti Williamson (Forrest Gump) and Yeardley Smith (The Simpsons) making brief appearances, it is the support players who ultimately save High School, and exhibit the best work of Stalberg and co-writer Erik Linthorst.
Anchor Bay's DVD sports a clean 2.40:1 anamorphic transfer, with natural colors and a good level of detail. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack offers crisp dialogue, while The Newton Brothers soundtrack kicks in to good effect. A selection of deleted scenes is included on the disc, along with a commentary track courtesy of writer-director John Stalberg. Stalberg's track is both informative and entertaining, especially when he reveals his interesting choice of test audience.
I've no doubt High School will play much better to a younger crowd, but with the performances of Chiklis, Brody, and Hanks on hand, even those who don't "partake" should find the film delivers solid, undemanding entertainment.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes