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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on Movies: High School

HIGH SCHOOL (Two  Stars)

U.S.: John Stalberg, 2012

The movie title “High School” is a pun of course — “High,“ ya dig — referring to the effects of marijuana on the student body and a few teachers at Stereotype High School, U. S. A.  But it’s not a very clever pun, since you can look at it or hear it and still not be sure that it’s not a reference to a Frederick Wiseman documentary.

If only it were. Instead, this particular High School is a knowing but mediocre stoner comedy with lots of marijuana in-jokes, but few real laughs — a joyless little pot farce about how a nutty school superintendent, Dr, Leslie Gordon (Michael Chiklis), goes on an anti-pot crusade, and runs up against the detemined sabotage of would-be valedictorian Henry Burke (Matt Bush) and his stoner pal Travis Breaux (Sean Marquette).

Gordon, who looks and talks like the mad doctor in a second-rate British horror show, triggers the eventual chaos when he institutes mass school drug testing after the school‘s Vietnamese spelling bee champion turns up stoned at the bee: a mass test that could well smoke the M.I.T. college scholarship plans of Henry, who was slipped a little weed by Travis fairly recently and will test positive, as will Travis and maybe a few others.

Travis‘ incredibly idiotic plan to deal with this: Muck up the drug test results by lacing the school bake sale brownies with cannabis and getting everyone (including the teachers) high, so none of the tests will seem valid. Hmmm. Even worse, Travis plans to steal the pot he uses for this hare-brained scheme from the local thoroughly paranoid multi-tattooed drug dealer Psycho Ed (Adrien Brody) — who will then, to nobody’s surprise, pursue them to hell and gone. Now, I could picture the illegally smiling pothaead played by James Franco in Pineapple Express, making the thought processes behind all that seem logical, but not the kids here — not, unfortunately Marquette’s somewhat rational-acting Travis.

For the rest of the movie, all kinds of people — including Henry, Travis, Dr. Gordon, a hip teacher played by Colin Hanks — and various other Morgan High scholars and philosophers get accidentally (or not) stoned and act stupid, as the movie tries to meld the comic styles of John Hughes and Cheech and Chong, and misses both. In fact, this show is so grating and paranoid — and the people on pot behave so foolishly, yet so unfunnily, that I think Richard Corlisss may be right wehen he suggests that High School plays less like a Cheech and Chong or a high Americab Pie and more like a latter-day Reefer Madness, a cautionary tale gone loco. Also, unusually for this kind of guy show, the love or sex interest (Alicia Sixtos as Sharky Ovante, I believe) seems barely present for the action. Maybe director John Stalberg and fellow co-writers Erik Linthorst and Stephen Susco thought the pot was sexier. They were wrong.

High School’s one big plus, or film coup, or contact high, is Brody’s Psycho Ed, a memorable ganja demon. Though Brody will never win another Oscar for stuff like this (to match the one he already took home for Polanski’s The Pianist), maybe he’ll get something more appropriate, like The supporting acror/dealer Golden Roachclip or the Bogart Joint or whatever.

The movie, by the way, as several writers have noted, seems haunted by ghost of legendary druggie/star John Belushi. Chiklis played Belushi in Wired, and Marquette looks and acts something like John here. I’ll bet if Belushi were around, he could have queezed a few more laughs out of High School. Frederick Wiseman probably could have, too.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon