Judge Christopher Kulik's hip-hop makeover in the '90s was no act.
Our review of Class Act (2006), published October 18th, 2007, is also available.
"Shut up and turn down that jacket!"
Touted as a hip-hop version of Laurel & Hardy, the late-'80s/early-'90s duo of Kid 'N Play hit the big time with a sleeper comedy called House Party. The film's success led to three sequels, two of which the boys would star in before breaking up in 1995. The only other film they made was Class Act, a modern-day comedy-of-errors which emerged as a flop. It has developed a minor cult reputation over the years; numerous online petitions have been created since its release, with fans clamoring for a DVD release. Warner Bros. has finally responded by releasing it as part of the Warner Archive collection.
Straight-arrow senior Duncan Pinderhughes (Christopher 'Kid' Reid) boasts a 4.0 GPA but needs a physical education credit before he can be accepted by his college of choice. Through a file mix-up, he accidentally receives the schedule of troublemaker Blade Brown (Christopher 'Play' Martin), who has just left prison under the condition he will go back to school and get his diploma. Thus, Blade begins taking classes like Advanced Latin with other honor students while Duncan is stuck with the underachieving losers who continually disrupt class and gamble on brawls in the parking lot. Blade informs him he will let him live under one condition: he must ace all of Blade's classes.
Let's get to the real question: does this measure up to House Party? Of course not! Class Act's predictable outline will be instantly recognizable to anyone who's read Mark Twain's The Prince And The Pauper or seen Trading Places. The theme of heredity vs. environment has been done a zillion times before (most notably in the classic Three Stooges shorts), and there is little here to distinguish it from others of its ilk. As expected, much of the humor is squeezed out of the boys' attempts to assimilate themselves in cliques they clearly don't belong in. If this weren't enough, Pauly Shore shows up in an unwelcome (and unbilled) cameo playing the same ignorant bum from such dopey vehicles as In The Army Now and Bio-Dome.
That all being said, Class Act is still an agreeable little comedy, trumping the lame House Party sequels in each and every way. Much of the fun is supplied by Kid 'N Play, as they give the viewer a lot of juice to chug on with their boundless energy and jocular rapport. True, they don't share as much screen time together as in House Party and their characters here have fewer dimensions, yet they still generate some big laughs. Naturally, they do dance and eventually sing a song together (the anti-drug chant "Get It Right"); rap has never been my cup of tea, but Kid 'N Play won me over with their the clean groove avoiding the usual bitch-n-ho pitch.
Director Randall Miller, who makes his debut here, made several mediocre comedies in the 1990s (The 6th Man, Houseguest) before doing a complete 180 with recent dramas Nobel Son and Bottle Shock). His work here isn't eye-popping, mind you, though Miller succeeds in maintaining a light, upbeat tone from start to finish. The script by John Semper & Cynthia Friedlob (the latter served as head writer on the duo's short-lived animated series) has enough colorful characters and funny moments to make you forget about the nonsensical plot.
While Martin Lawrence is nowhere in sight (thank goodness!), there are some familiar faces here, all giving 100% to the proceedings. Among others, there's stand-up comedienne Simply Marvalous (House Party 3), Rhea Perlman (Cheers) as the amorous Latin teacher, and Lamont Johnson (The Five Heartbeats) as a streetwise tough who freaks the hell out of Duncan. Also scoring highly is comedian Doug E. Doug (Eight Legged Freaks) as Duncan's buddy, a homie named Popsickle who isn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. Kudos also to Vassal Benford, who not only did the score but also wrote the majority of the songs—including the bouncy title tune, which plays in at least three different variations; ditto to the stylish costumes by Violette Jones-Faison (The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air).
Fans will no doubt be disappointed with Warner Bros.' DVD treatment, which is as bare-bones as they come. This is typical of the Archive collection, to be honest; the studio chooses lesser-known catalogue titles and then offers it at an outrageous price ($15-$20) with no restoration or extras. Surprisingly, Class Act looks excellent in the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen print, arguably due to the fact the flick is not even 20 years old yet. The image is very clean and largely free of grain and debris. Archive discs usually have mono tracks, but Class Act comes with 5.1 surround sound, giving appropriate boosts to the soundtrack. Dialogue is easily heard most of the time; there are no subtitles, and the ethic slang does get unintelligible once or twice. Aside from the original theatrical trailer, there are no extras.
Class Act will never be classified as a great comedy, but it's
definitely not a waste of time either. The film and Kid 'N Play are free to go,
and even though Warner Bros. is still neglecting to include extras, this is
still a better-than-average release in the Archive assembly line.
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