Higher Learning has a great many things on its mind, which immediately places it in a rather exclusive catagory of American films these days. John Singleton’s third feature is concerned with matters such as group think, individuality, the importance of education, political correctness, sexual identity, labels, personal responsibility and racial tension.
Focusing mostly on members of an incoming freshman class at fictitious Colombus University, pic takes a heightened interest in three students: Malik (Omar Epps), a politically unformed black runner on a sports scholarship; Kristen (Kristy Swanson), a naive white girl from Orange County who gets a rude awakening at school; and Remy (Michael Rapaport), a social misfit from Idaho.
Malik’s early doubts about his enthusiasm for track are turned around by foxy runner Monet (Regina King). Kristen launches her college career by getting drunk and date-raped. Resulting trauma sees her being consoled by earth-motherly lesbian Taryn (Jennifer Connelly). Loner Remy falls in with a tiny band of white supremacists who read aloud from Mein Kampf.
As one of many character sketches on a broad canvas, this would have been OK. But in the final act, Singleton narrows his focus almost exclusively to Remy and his black adversaries.
Despite this dramatic derailment, Higher Learning still packs a fair amount of power thanks to the force of the ideas being discussed. Cast is solid, with Epps, Swanson and Rapaport ably registering their immature characters without actually plumbing psychological depths.