Title: High School
Directed By: John Stalberg
Starring: Matt Bush, Sean Marquette, Adrien Brody, Michael Chiklis, Colin Hanks, Adhir Kalyan
Perhaps I’m a bit too liberal, but if someone back in high school plotted to get the entire student body high in attempt to not get in trouble for failing a drug test, even if I was a mere pawn in their ploy, I’d get a kick out of it and while that is very much true when the same event goes down in the movie High School, rather than relish in the genius and hilarity of the idea, an overly convoluted and silly plot puts it in a fog.
When one of Morgan High School’s best of the best botches a spelling bee big time because she’s high, the dean, Dr. Leslie Gordon (Michael Chiklis), decides to administer a school-wide drug test to preserve the institution’s reputation. While this normally wouldn’t alarm the soon-to-be valedictorian, Henry Burke (Matt Bush), it just so happens that school stoner, Travis Breaux (Sean Marquette), recently convinced him to indulge himself.
After some inebriated brainstorming, the two figure the only way they can fly under the radar should they fail their drug tests is if the entire student body fails. They steal some of Psycho Ed’s (Adrien Brody) highly potent stash, dump it into a massive amount of brownie mix and turn their baked goods into the centerpiece of the school bake sale.
Pretty clever idea, right? Yes, but smart core concepts don’t necessarily generate solid features. Director and co-writer John Stalberg has an excellent nut hear, but the problem is that the task of getting the whole school high isn’t the protagonists’ main goal. Rather than milk that idea for all it’s worth, Stalberg whips through the task in just a few scenes and montages and, while that portion of High School is quite successful, it winds up undermining the rest of the story.
After Henry and Travis get their classmates high, the plot loses its footing as it veers in one too many directions. There’s a battle between Henry and the soon-to-be salutatorian (Adhir Kalyan), a bit about Henry’s crush, Dr. Gordon’s rampage, the school’s assistant dean’s (Colin Hanks) effort to get to the bottom of this crazy day and Psycho Ed coming back for his drugs. While all manage to stay afloat courtesy of stoner and high school comedy clichés, they’re also peppered with logical issues.
While it can be easy to overlook rationality with a movie like this, High School still suffers from a poorly constructed chain of events. Rather than naturally flow from predicament to predicament, issues are haphazardly thrown in Henry and Travis’ faces seemingly because they just need a new problem to solve. While with jump from task to task, we completely lose sight of the main goal – to clear Henry’s name so he can still go to MIT.
On the acting front, the cast benefits from a long list of colorful characters. While Henry and Travis’ pairing could teeter on the line of Harold and Kumar, Bush and Marquette’s performances turn those clichés into fully realized people and, in the process, set them apart from other stoners we’ve grown to know and love. Brody is absolutely out of control as Psycho Ed, but in a rather amusing way. On the other hand, Chiklis’ Dr. Gordon is a bit too over the top. Cody Longo delivers a surprisingly memorable performance as some random student who’s busy looking for the administration office the entire film, but perhaps some of his screen time should have been given to Hanks whose character is supposed to be more pivotal to the plot, but doesn’t really get enough material to make an impact.
On the technical front, even though High School is Stalberg’s feature debut, he certainly knows what he’s doing. He clearly put a lot of thought into each and every frame of this film and while some of his shot design doesn’t work as it was probably intended to, they all work to make High School a visually stimulating and fresh feeling experience. The costume work and set design are both generally on point, but the excessive number of rather large tattoos is a bit distracting as is Bush’s painfully fake looking black eye.
No, High School isn’t a particularly memorable stoner comedy, but it’s harmless and a mostly entertaining watch. We’ve got some enjoyable performances and situations that’ll likely have the life sucked out of them for moviegoers picking at logicality, but if you take High School for what it is, it’s a passable mindless romp. Then again, while it would be nice to see what Stalberg comes up with next, calling his first feature a passable mindless romp isn’t exactly a ticket to future film funding.