The problem with “High School High” isn’t that it always goes for the cheap laugh, but that it fails at getting it so often. Like a student who studies hard but just doesn’t have the smarts, this joyless send-up of the “Dangerous Minds,” “Stand and Deliver,” idealistic-teacher-in-a-ghetto-school genre plods along earnestly with barely passing grades. B.O. prospects appear below average: Given the lack of youth-oriented fare in the marketplace, target teen audiences may fill seats early in the semester, but attendance is likely to drop off quickly.
Fade-in has naive history teacher Richard Clark (Jon Lovitz) reporting for his new assignment at Marion Barry High, a graffitied, burned-out shell of a school where kids routinely hold teachers hostage and hall vending machines dispense malt liquor cans in brown paper bags.
In his first 10 minutes on the job, Clark gets his car stolen, finds himself in the middle of a gang feud and runs afoul of the baseball bat-wielding principal, Mrs. Doyle. (Louise Fletcher, in a role that makes Nurse Ratched look like Florence Nightingale)
Things aren’t all bad, however: Clark also strikes up a relationship with the principal’s congenitally perky assistant Victoria (Tia Carrere).
Skeleton of a plot finds the well-meaning Clark toiling valiantly to get his students to pass a college entrance exam. When some drug-dealing gang members steal the tests and replace them with failing ones, Clark and Victoria pose as dealers to get the tests back, unmask the ringleader and restore Clark’s reputation.
Pic is peppered with the kind of joke-a-minute gags one expects from writer-producer David Zucker, co-creator of the “Airplane” and “Naked Gun” franchises. But while those films’ shotgun approach to humor was guaranteed to hit its mark occasionally, “High School” fires wide consistently.
One major problem is that the film’s satirical targets — a crime-ridden school, attempted rape, teen pregnancies, and the hopelessness of ghetto life — just aren’t as inherently hilarious as bumbling cops or airplane disaster films.
Carrere, while as beautiful as ever, is utterly lacking in comic timing, delivering her punchlines as if she’s underwater. For his part, Lovitz plods along cheerfully, his one-note character a kind of chipper, suburban Woody Allen.
The humor itself is lowbrow even compared with Zucker’s earlier slapstick vehicles. Here’s an example of an off-camera sex scene:
Lovitz: “Victoria, you’re still a virgin!”
Carrere: “No, Richard. My panties are still on.”
You get the idea.