First time director, John Stalberg has crafted a fun and breezy stoner comedy that this critic suspects will find a devout fan base whenever it finds distribution and gets released. High School is destined to become requisite dorm room screening fare ala Dazed & Confused, Half Baked, Super Bad, and Harold & Kumar. You're hearing it first here, this is going to be a huge sleeper hit and nearly every frat boy in the U.S. is gonna have a DVD of this in their collection right next to Old School.
The film takes an overused one note comedy routine we've seen hundreds of times before and builds it into an epic and brilliant premise. We've seen plenty of films where unsuspecting straight edged characters accidentally get high in public spaces via magic brownies or other mind altering substances. Flirting with Disaster, Death at a Funeral, and even Transformers 2 utilized this gag. But High School takes things much further. Think about the title man, HIGH School. Get it yet?
The film opens with a fairly juvenile and potentially offensive bit that actually works pretty damn well. A celebrated Asian student with Phuck for a last name gets high before a spelling bee and winds up on national news. Michael Chiklis from the Shield plays Principal Gordon. Embarrassed by the negative publicity his school is receiving from Ms. Phuck's pot induced outburst, he institutes a zero tolerance policy for weed. He runs a major media campaign while forcing the entire student body to submit to a school wide drug test. Any student with any traces of THC in their urine is going to be expelled.
Valedictorian, Henry Burke is only a month away from graduation and on his way to Harvard. Unfortunately, he's just been coaxed into smoking pot for the first time a day before the drug testing. There's no way to get the THC out of his system in time and is now bound to be expelled.
He enlists the help of quasi childhood friend, Travis Breauz. Travis is an obnoxious, fowl mouthed stoner similar to Jonas Hill's character from Super Bad.
Travis concocts a crazy plan to get the entire school high. If everyone fails the drug test, then no one will be expelled. How will they do this? They steal a jar of extremely potent kief from a wild and dangerous dealer named Psycho Ed played by Adrien Brody. Adrien may only be a supporting character here, but he completely steals the show. This is his film. Wild eyed with a dirty beard, corn rolls, and covered in prison ink, Psycho Ed proves that Brody may be better suited towards character work.
Conveniently coincidental, the drug test is taking place on the same day of the school bake sale. Henry and Travis create a few dozen batches of magic brownies using the kief and replace all of the pastries with their own. All of this happens within the first ten minutes. The bulk of the film is centered on all of the antics that ensue throughout the school day with the entire student body and faculty tripping balls. For anyone who's ever eaten a magic brownie, particularly one made with kief, then you know it exactly what it can do to someone. This is an intense body high that only gets worse as time passes while your body slowly processes and metabolizes the THC in the fat of the brownie. Things get realistically worse for the students and faculty as the day goes on. And sense no one catches on that there's incredibly potent kief in the brownies, they continue to eat more. The film does a fine job of continually amping things up as it goes on and builds to crazy and crazier scenarios as it reaches the climax.
Chiklis is terrific as the sweaty, perverted, tea bagging principle. In fact, it wasn't until the credits that I even realized who he was.
Colin Hanks and Yeardley Smith also show up and get some great gags in as well. But, like most stoner comedies of this ilk, the jokes are largely hit or miss. And like Half Baked, the jokes are probably more miss than hit. But the gags that do work are strong enough to warrant a HIGH recommendation.
The problem is that the film's two leads are the weakest aspect. Boring, unlikeable, and utterly forgettable, they fail to make any type of impression. Henry is the whiny, straight man and Travis is the dopey vulgar fat kid. Films of this nature are almost exclusively dependent on the leads' chemistry with each other and there simply is none between Henry & Travis. These are boring characters performed by underwhelming actors. Most scenes featuring them feel forced and strains for laughs that never come. There were long bouts of time without a single chuckle from the audience. If only Harold & Kumar could have been injected into this movie. One of the reasons why the first film in that series worked so well and became a hit is the fact that both Harold and Kumar are likable, and even more importantly, relatable characters.
But don't let this wane you from High School too much. The previous paragraph may seem contradictory to my previous comments but what works here, works like fucking gangbusters. Unfortunately, most will spend many scenes waiting for Brody, Chiklis, and Smith's characters to reappear. But, like any good horror film, or even a relationship, anticipation only makes the heart grow fonder. Brody nails it nearly every time he's on screen. Almost all of the supporting cast land some of the biggest laughs of this festival season and will make you forget about any issues with Henry & Travis. Also, let's not kid ourselves here. The target audience for this film is not discerning film aficionados. Most going into this are probably going to be inebriated in some form or another, in which case, the jokes that fell flat while sober will most likely work a lot better under the right alternative circumstances.
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