American High School:
First off, when pulling this DVD from the screener pool, I thought it was that recent, sadly underperforming documentary American Teen. I guess I should actually pay attention once in a while, since I wound up with this 21st century DTDVD teen sex comedy. My experience with teen sex comedies is embarrassing, and American High School makes me wonder how the genre has managed to become twice as chaste and twice as crass in the nearly thirty years since I lost my innocence.
How'd I lose that innocence you ask? Well, my mom took me to see Porky's when I was eleven - I was destroyed by mortification. But that cruel, sleazy movie, featuring 'enough wool to knit a sweater' represented a watermark of nudity and frankness to never be matched.
Which brings us to American High School, a intermittently funny movie, a sleazy movie, and a movie with almost no nudity and lacking the balls to even come up with a title that's not derivative. I'm not ashamed to admit that I don't really recall what this movie is about; it's that slight. Jillian Murray plays married senior Gwen, (yes, married in high school) unhappy with her life and husband, primarily because - although she prides herself on having had sex in every risky place at school - her hubby decides to dork her in the principal's office, inadvertently broadcasting the escapade throughout school via the intercom. She might be pregnant, and her hugely endowed dad might be sticking it to the school's 'sexy' vice-principal, (an appropriate title if ever there was one) which is an issue of great affront to many of the school's male students. Anyway, Gwen's mission is to find happiness, or true love, or to humiliate her childhood rival.
No one is expecting a movie like this to be deep, yet this pond is so shallow you could skip an elephant across it. And it's just plain weird - I mean, who watches a teen sex-comedy to cheer for a girl to get a divorce? Not that this odd, thin plot is a really substantive problem - most of the sex-comedies of my youth involved no more than some boys wanting to lose their virginity. Hell, American Pie had the same damn plot. So what's wrong with American High School? I guess as a no-brainer movie, not too much. It's hard to care what happens to any of the characters, though, and there's also the little fact that horn-dogs will see one - count 'em - one pair of boobs during the entire movie. In a sex comedy? We get a daughter watching her dad have sex multiple times, and a prom date trying to force his partner to give him head (all for laughs, of course) but almost zero nudity. I demand reparations!
In all fairness, American High School spurts out a decent amount of laughs, risqué ones, too, like when our heroine asks the school nurse for a pregnancy test. "Can I just have a strip to pee on?" she demands. "I don't have anything to pee on, except me, if you're into that ..." he retorts, which is good stuff for 21st century kids weaned on Internet porn. Even better is American High School's standout pair of Doofus and Doofuser, Jonny Awesome (Brian Drolet in fine, offensive form) and Matt Mysterio (James E. Foley). Both are more than willing to expose their semi-doughy guts (I should talk) while acting as smooth idiots - they're basically the heart and soul of the movie, delivering the lion's share of laughs, and not around enough. Principal Mann (Martin Klebba) is another selling point: tough, sleazy and (while lording over them) totally on the kids' level - he brings real energy. Plus, Klebba's a little person, a point never mentioned or used to any of the standard effects, which is a giant breath of fresh air in casting.
However that's not quite enough. Whereas I (even as an 11-year-old) actually cared about what happened to the kids in Porky's, I'm totally disinvested in this student body. While Murray certainly has a cute student body, she can't bring enough to her meager plight - I don't care if she rediscovers wedded bliss or flunks out. And despite the presence of the Doofus Twins, I couldn't care less about, nor do I quite remember, the remaining student characters. Plus, even with every profanity-laced sexual diatribe, tingly thrills aren't there - I get more aroused by Love Hewitt's Hanes ads than by this skin-free exercise in neo-conservative sleaze. Give Awesome and Mysterio their own movie, and load it with skin, because the curriculum at this American High School makes me long for the days of the Porky's franchise, and that's not saying much.
The high school experience arrives in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, with varying results. Footage shot from helicopter is used to establish many scenes; the footage is awfully grainy, setting a tone that makes the remainder of otherwise relatively decent footage seem worse than it is. Overall, the picture is not too sharp, detail levels are just OK, and some aliasing and minor edge enhancement problems are occasionally noticeable. Additionally, flesh-tones run fairly hot and red. In some ways this kind-of grubby look is an element that reinforces American High School's status as a throwback sex-comedy.
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound Audio hasn't much to do except punch up the So-Cal-Rock-filled soundtrack, which is OK if you enjoy that type of music. In all, the mix is adequate - musical elements don't compete with dialog, which is largely intelligible. Otherwise, there's not much in the way of an elaborate audio arrangement.
Like toplessness, extras are slight on this release. English SDH Subtitles and a Trailer for AHS start things off, with a Commentary Track and Deleted Scenes with Commentary (18-minutes' worth) finish things off. Oddly, commentary for the deleted scenes is mandatory, so you can't actually hear anything that's being commented on, but it's nonetheless clear those things cut were well left out. Both feature and deleted scenes commentaries feature writer/director Sean Patrick Cannon (who struggles to get a word in edgewise) and cast members. There's lots of laughing, comments along the lines of 'she rocks this scene,' 'this is really funny,' or 'I like it,' resulting in one of the few commentary tracks that fails to make me appreciate the movie more.
American High School's odd plot trajectory sums the movie up with the phrase "sometimes life blows - it's up to you to sit back and enjoy the blowjob," which is a pretty strange sentiment. It's an apt summation for a teen sex-comedy that sports almost zero nudity, blah lead characters, and gives its best laughs to slimy supporting roles. I guess it's interesting to see what teen sex-comedies are all about in our post-American Pie, post neo-con world, which may merit a Rent It, but my rental dollar will likely go towards another viewing of Porky's - this time without my mother.
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com