Mixing elements of “Trading Places” with a Three Stooges short, this latest test for rap duo Kid ‘n Play scores low on the SAT spectrum but should connect with a narrow range of older children and younger teens, at whom it’s clearly aimed. Warner Bros. should post passing box office grades thanks to that contingent and scribble a couple of nice weekends before “Class” gets dismissed from theaters.
Infused with some of the energy but not the smarts of the pair’s debut in “House Party,” the movie actually has a reasonably engaging premise that gets lost amid the too-broad cartoon elements and emphasis on teen T&A.
Two newcomers to a high school–one a certified genius, the other a paroled felon with a nasty reputation–swap identities, giving the nerd the tough guy’s rep while placing his counterpart among the snooty elite.
After a while, each is willing to give up the ruse, except that they’ve both met girls (Alysia Rogers and Karyn Parsons, both very appealing in rather thankless roles) within their new worlds and are reluctant to endanger those relationships by revealing the deception.
The concept provides fodder for comedy but also could have illustrated a more subtle point about how schools and others prejudge on the basis of reputation, with expectations dictating perceptions.
Subtlety, however, is a four-letter word to director Randall Miller, a first-time movie helmsman whose TV credits include the series “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose,” which “Class Act” greatly resembles both in tone and style.
In keeping with the genre, for example, the action comes to a dead stop near the end so Kid ‘n Play can deliver a rap number carrying an anti-drug message, although the scene feels so tacked on and gratuitous one suspects no one’s heart was really in it.
Like “Parker Lewis,” Miller relies on snappy editing, a persistent score and a barrage of bright colors to dazzle the senses and hide deficiencies in the story–all the elements generally associated with tranquilizing the MTV generation.
Still, such frenetic pacing proves difficult to maintain, and the movie essentially implodes during the last act, turning to sight gags so broad and obvious that only those who mistake “Encino Man” for “Hamlet” will be able to hang on for the ride.
Some amusing moments do emerge in the early going thanks largely to the attractive young cast, and comic Doug E. Doug, bound for his own TV series, proves a consistent scene-stealer as the convenient best buddy of whoever happens to be the baddest dude in school.
Kid (Christopher Reid) and Play (Christopher Martin) also reinforce their ability to provide engaging surrogates for the teen set, with the former nicely convincing as a bookish pinhead, hairstyle notwithstanding.
All the grown-ups, including Meshach Taylor and a cameo by Rhea Perlman, are presented like the unseen parents in Charlie Brown cartoons, with the words they form being about as authoritative as those familiar “wah-wah” noises.
Comic Pauly Shore also turns up in an insignificant cameo as his stock Valley dude–an apparent concession to attract white kids that’s wholly unnecessary, since Kid ‘n Play have enough generic appeal if packaged properly to draw a crossover audience.
Tech credits get a B+ on the modest production, with extra credit to costume designer Violette Jones-Faison, production designer David L. Snyder and cinematographer Francis Kenny for their “Class”-y contributions.