High School

"High School" offers up a fast and sporadically funny tall tale about two tokin' teens.

Psycho Ed - Adrien Brody Travis Breaux - Sean Marquette Henry Burke - Matthew Bush Brandon Ellis - Colin Hanks Sebastian Saleem - Adhir Kalyan Paranoid - Mykelti Williamson Dr. Leslie Gordon - Michael Chiklis

High School” offers up a fast and sporadically funny tall tale about two tokin’ teens trying to cover their tracks by getting their classmates to fail a mandatory drug test. Borrowing some character dynamics from “Superbad” (but with less vulgarity) and some demented antics from “Pineapple Express” (but with less violence), this madcap romp runs out of steam well before the finish, but its combo of sweetness and high spirits — not unlike the chemical composition of the dope-infused brownies that serve as a key plot device — proves sufficiently ingratiating to satisfy viewers in theatrical and homevid play.

Seeming to channel Michael Cera and Jonah Hill by virtue of their body types alone, rail-thin overachiever Henry (Matthew Bush) and portly slacker Travis (Sean Marquette) are former best friends who have since drifted in opposite scholastic directions. But the two put aside their differences one afternoon and hang out in their childhood treehouse, where Travis encourages Henry to take his first hit of marijuana.

Bad idea, and not just because it results in an unusually painful high for Henry. The next day, odious school principal Dr. Leslie Gordon (Michael Chiklis, unrecognizable in a red hairpiece), determined to ferret out pot use among the student body, announces that there will be schoolwide drug tests; the penalty for testing positive is expulsion. With Henry’s college scholarship on the line, he and Travis concoct a crazy scheme to get the entire student body high, with some help from the school’s conveniently timed bake sale.

To do this, Henry and Travis must raid the secret stash of Travis’ drug dealer, the aptly named Psycho Ed (a feral, heavily tattooed Adrien Brody). The sequence in which the two do the deed is effectively tense and pulses with danger, suggesting that director John Stalberg Jr. has a modest talent for suspense that, in the long run, proves more impressive than the pic’s hit-miss comic ratio. (Script’s attempt to turn one word in particular into a catch-phrase comes off as a too-strenuous bid for stoner-classic status.)

Few surprises remain once Henry and Travis put their plan into action, with the result not nearly as funny in practice as it is in theory, and some twisty complications involving a vengeful Psycho Ed and a suspicious Dr. Gordon don’t add much. Yet Stalberg never lets things go slack; Gabriel Wrye’s mildly caffeinated editing and Mitchell Amundsen’s active lensing sustain a mild rush that keeps things lively, even if the ending is never really in doubt.

Outsized comic turns by Brody and Chiklis are often granted too much exposure, though Bush and Marquette ground the pic as an appealing straight-man duo. Soundtrack standout is MGMT’s “Kids,” used to good scene-setting effect in the pic’s very funny opening sequence.

Popular on Variety

High School

Production: A Parallel Media presentation of a Parallel Media and Flipside production in association with Zero Hour. Produced by Warren Zide, Raymond J. Markovich, Arkadiy Golobuvich. Executive producers, Olga Mirimskaya, Ryan Lewis, Stephen Susco, John Stalberg Jr., Golobuvich. Directed by John Stalberg Jr. Screenplay, Erik Linthorst, Stalberg, Stephen Susco; story, Stalberg, Linthorst.

Crew: Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Mitchell Amundsen; editor, Gabriel Wrye; music, Harold Faltermeyer, Freescha; production designer, Seth Reed; art director, Johnny Jos; set decorator, Maggie Martin; costume designer, Marie France; sound (Dolby Digital), Beau Williams; supervising sound editor, Javier Bennassar; re-recording mixers, Leslie Shatz, Gabriel J. Serrano; visual effects supervisor, Issei Oda; stunt coordinators, Russell Solberg, Clint Lilley; assistant director, Michelangelo Csaba Bol; casting, Barbara Fiorentino. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Park City at Midnight), Jan. 26, 2010. Running time: 99 MIN.

With: Psycho Ed - Adrien Brody Travis Breaux - Sean Marquette Henry Burke - Matthew Bush Brandon Ellis - Colin Hanks Sebastian Saleem - Adhir Kalyan Paranoid - Mykelti Williamson Dr. Leslie Gordon - Michael Chiklis

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