Blowing smoke, doing little else in “High School”
“It’s times like these that you need to start thinking like a stoner,” proclaims our chubby underdog Travis Breaux (Sean Marquette).
What Breaux didn’t realize when he’d said these words (or what writer-director John Stalberg, Jr. hadn’t foreseen when he’d written these words) was just how applicable that maxim would be to the likes of you and me. I should preface this by saying, though, that I hold the stoner comedy in very high esteem—that pun was unavoidable. Cheech and Chong are loveable, Pineapple Express is a piece of veiled genius, and Dude, Where’s My Car? may shed some light on Sony Pictures’ choice of Ashton Kutcher to play Steve Jobs in the coming Sony-produced biopic.
Not for nothing, though, these sorts of movies usually follow similar story arcs with similar characters (frequently blazed males whose ordinariness is justifiably confronted by some strange or as-yet-unexplained turn of events). The elements of slapstick and absurdity are charming, and even then Judd Apatow elevated the genre (if it can be so called that) with the tenderness and heartfelt Bro Love of Pineapple Express. There is a sense of the viewer looking in through a window to a lifestyle they can assure themselves they’d never indulge in while, at once, envying the simple and ascetic peace of someone who doesn’t strive for much and just rolls with the punches—even if that involves being chased after by an ostrich.
But High School ceases to resemble any of the qualities that have made it’s obvious influences so beloved. Normally a revisionist’s take on any genre might be lauded for being “daring” or “risky,” but High School is a bland pastiche of borrowed one-offs and comfortable tropes.
Briefly: Henry Burke (Matt Bush) is an uptight, straight-A student whose rekindled friendship with a childhood buddy (who is, by now, a drifting stoner) leads him to try marijuana for the first time. The very next day, as luck would have it, a school-wide drug test is announced, and the only logical solution is to get the whole school high in order to preserve Burke’s status as valedictorian.
I don’t want to belabour the upsetting fact that High School‘s plot is just plain silly (not in the good way, either) and the execution was merely okay, but the series of outrageous events—one OMG after the other—just becomes boring, and suddenly I’m reminded of a Psychology lesson about habituation and desensitization. Very poor attempts, usually in the form of trite monologues, are made at making us care about Breaux (the stoner whom I can only imagine is very near and dear to Stahlberg’s heart). I found myself sighing and rolling my eyes an unhealthy and inordinate number of times.
Alas! There is a guiding light in this slipshod love letter to high school stoners the world over: Michael Chiklis’ astounding performance as Principal Gordon, who must have been separated at birth from Milton of Office Space fame. He’d be the imposing, conniving, scheming older brother; a real careerist whose menacing grin and petrifying stare are two sides of the same coin of hilarity. Score: 4 / 10.
Kyle Dunn / Editor in Chief