Most high school comedies are so obsessed with giving us the sex & raunch schtick that when a more mature example wanders by, we're tempted to give the flick a bit more credit than it deserves. Kids in America has a good sense of humor, a sunny disposition, and no shortage of animosity towards censorship and conformity ... but it's still a pretty cookie-cutter affair all the same.
A racially diverse crew of seven students decide that their evil (uber-Republican) high school principal is abusing her power, victimizing free thinkers, and quashing everyone's first amendment rights -- so off they go to bring the mini-dictator down before the elections are held for the state superintendent's position.
But for a movie that preaches such an anti-conformity message, the thing sure looks, sounds, and feels like an ABC Movie of the Week. Directed in a colorfully generic fashion by first-timer Josh Stolberg, Kids in America wants to be one of the "cool kids" who talk about students' rights and individualism -- but is ultimately as contrived as the 52-year-old guidance counselor who thinks that using words like "groovy" will help them to connect with his students.
Plus, despite the presence of several likeable and talented performers, very little of Kids in America is what one would call "funny." It's clear that Stolberg and co-writer Andrew Shaifer are true-blue movie geeks, which explains why some of the flick's best moments arrive as isolated movie references that have practically nothing to do with the actual story.
As the dashing "Holden," Gregory Smith exhibits some slick wit and leading lady Stephanie Sherrin is a charming little redhead. The rest of the anti-establishment crew is ...varied, at best. Among the geeky gay guy, the overweight vidiot, the semi-angry black girl, and the perky cheerleader, the only performer who breaks through their respective stereotype is Emy Coligado, who plays "the Asian girl." (You might remember Ms. Coligado from her scene-stealings over at Malcolm in the Middle.) And yes, Nicole Richie does show up in this movie. She plays a cheerleader and has maybe 16 lines of dialogue.
Wandering grown-ups in the cast include George Wendt as a coach, Rosanna Arquette as a free-spirited mom, Elizabeth Perkins as a drunken rich gal, Adam Arkin as an ignorant educator, and the pixieish Julie Bowen, miscast, as the world's most hateful principal.
Stolberg & Shaifer deserve some extra credit for trying to make a teen flick that wasn't just the same old T & A / crotch-kick / bong-hit litany, but Kids in America is fairly corny, drably delivered, and not really packing all that much in the laughs department. The cast keeps it watchable, but it's not a flick you'll remember for more than 45 minutes.
Video: Screen Media delivers the flick in a crisp and colorful Widescreen (1.85:1) format.
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround. No subtitles.
Gathered for a raucous cast & crew commentary are director Josh Stolberg, producer Andrew Shaifer, and actors Gregory Smith, Stephanie Sherrin, Alex Anfanger, Emy Coligado, and Crystal Grant. As is often the case with these overcrowded chat-tracks, the participants take to speaking over one another and laughing a whole heckuva lot. The filmmakers do manage to wedge some production stories in there, but generally this one's a goof-track, and therefore recommended mainly to big fans of the flick.
Also included is a 9-minute outtake reel, which delivers a few mild chuckles.
It's a little bit smarter and more socially-conscious than most of its teen-genre contemporaries, but Kids in America also feels pretty homogenized and, despite some winning performances, isn't really all that funny. Your mileage may vary, of course, in the "what equals funny" department.