CATEGORIES Comedy, Independent, Sundance, Theatrical Reviews, Festival Reports, Reviews, Sundance Film Festival, Cinematical
You know how when you like a person, you're often able to overlook their faults? That happens with movies sometimes, too. The pot comedy HIGH School, for example, takes off at a rapid clip, tossing funny quips and amusing ideas at the screen, introduces us to a bunch of colorfully diverting characters, and then ... well, it sort of runs out of steam a little bit. But the flick spends a lot of time building up some good will in its first half, so it's like I said: I kinda like the flick, so I'm willing to overlook a few slow spots, stupid jokes, and clunky plot holes.
The premise alone makes me chuckle, and I suppose that's where the good will begins: Our hero is a high school senior who is just about to graduate as valedictorian before heading off to MIT. But during a nostalgic visit with his old buddy Travis (Sean Marquette), Henry Burke (the very likable Matt Bush) decides to take his very first toke off of a joint. Whoops. That's some really bad timing on Henry's part, because his officious stooge of a high school principal (Michael Chiklis) is planning a school-wide drug test for the next day. When Henry and Travis learn this horrific news, they set out to get the entire school wasted -- by lacing the bake sale brownies with concentrated THC crystals.
The leads have a quick wit and strong chemistry, the concept is slight but clever, the supporting cast (particularly Chiklis, Colin Hanks as a goofy assistant dean, and Adrien Brody as the world's scariest weed dealer) is strong, and the flick moves at a nice clip for a pot comedy. So what's the problem? Little nags, really, like when the film opens with an allegedly hilarious gag about an Asian gal named Charlene Phuc. Littered around acts 2 and 3 are a few obvious plot holes, narrative distractions, and really strange changes of heart by key characters.
Still, these are relatively minor issues when you're looking at a slight farce from a group of first-time filmmakers. What director John Stalberg does get right (the tone, the energy, the pace) is a lot better than most first-timers can offer. And judged on the scale of "weed comedies," I'm pleased to note that HIGH School is considerably slyer, slicker, and funnier than most of its ilk. That's not to say that HIGH School doesn't wade into some basic "dumb, spaced, hungry stoner" material once in a while (it does), but that most of it is tossed out quickly to make way for something a bit funnier.
With faculty members like Michael Vartan, Yeardley Smith, and Curtis "Booger" Armstrong (and an outrageously over-the-top performance by Adrien Brody), HIGH School coasts over its missteps and succeeds on equal parts quick humor, likable characters, and pure energy. And weed.