Whoa, have you ever noticed how film movies talk to each other? Take Adrien Brody, who just recently starred as a bitterly disillusioned teacher in Tony Kaye’s indictment of the education system, Detachment. Now he’s back in the groves, or at least the stems, of academe in High School, a stoner comedy with a slightly musty vintage aroma. And this time he’s seriously detached.
Brodie plays Psycho Ed, a bearded, bug-eyed lawyer-turned-drug dealer who spends most of his time in a paranoid fog, wearing a whirl of tattoos on his naked torso. From his well-guarded lair, He deals super dank weed to students at Morgan High School , and periodically calls out, “What?” whenever his pet frog croaks.
High School, which had its premiere in January 2010 in the Midnight portion of the Sundance Film Festival, is a sort of indie homage to the ’80s preppie rebellion movie, specifically Risky Business and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Along with Brody’s scenery-munching schtick, the other silly performance here is from Michael Chiklis ( The Shield , Fantastic Four), as the school’s principal , Dr. Leslie Gordon. He wears a red wig to resemble the angry principal role from Ferris Bueheler’s Day Off and maintains a slightly stuffy/pervy vibe of every cinematic authority figure from Animal House on. Just so we don’t miss the point, there’s also a small role here for Curtis Armstrong, who played Tom Cruise’s sidekick in Risky Business.
Those are akll more colourful characters than the generic duo who are the ostensible stars of this movie. When skinny, timid, straight-A student Henry (Matthew Bush) finds himself sharing a detention with a childhood friend, the portly belligerent stoner Travis (Sean Marquette), he ends up visiting the tree house where they used to play, and for the first time taking a puff on a joint. His timing is unfortunate.
A champion spelling-bee contestant (Julia Ling) named Charlyne Phuc (ha ha) has just blown the state championship by getting stoned out of her gourd and musing at length on the links between loggorhea and diarrhea before the baffled judges. Principal Gordon has declared that there will be mandatory drug testing for all students on the last day of exams. The results will screw Henry’s valedictorian ambitions as well as his scholarship to Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Feeling guilty, Travis has a plan: Get everyone stoned at the school’s upcoming bake sale, and then Henry’s issue will be eclipsed. But that will require some super-dope, which is where Psycho Ed’s secret private stash of distilled THC comes in. The scene where the two boys rob Ed’s lair is a nicely loopy bit of suspense, with Travis showing his skill at working around Ed’s vigilant paranoia by focusing on his weakness: An extremely short attention span.
Once the boys have scored the THC, made the brownies and unleashed them upon the school, things start getting a little woozy – fish-eye lenses, sudden blackouts, and the familiar cinematic language of tripping out. The screen suddenly seems filled with actors doing their stoned bit. Colin Hanks plays a teacher who, when wrecked, discovers his inner hipster . Yeardley Smith (Lisa on The Simpsons) is a prim teacher who starts describing her erotic fantasies about Canadian rocker Bryan Adams. The trouble is, a movie filled with too many characters who are high proves more fun than hanging around with people who are high, and at the point where Principal Gordon stares at the clock and declares that time appears to be slowing down, you begin to experience a contact low.
Compared to the contemporary stoner comedies of David Gordon Green ( Pineapple Express, Your Highness) or the Harold & Kumar movies, High School is sweet, mild stuff. It probably won’t harsh your buzz if you have one, but it’s about three bongs short of high-larious.