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Making the Grade
'Round about the time John Hughes was romanticizing Preppie culture with movies like Pretty In Pink and The Breakfast Club, others were looking at the dark side, the seamy side of ivy-enhanced academia. Thankfully it was a short-lived genre, as putting up with some of these dipsticks is almost impossible. Full of dipsticks, and grating in that way only really-amped '80s movies are, Making The Grade somehow finds a human heart along the way. You may even find yourself caring about the type of character with which Judd Nelson made his name.
Though Making The Grade ends up ultimately as a somewhat rewarding movie, you'll have to decide if you want to put up with the first 60 minutes. Blatantly extraneous style for style's sake is now hopelessly dated, though I'll bet it was just as irritating in 1984 as it is today. The intro is all full of irritating, as we meet Eddie Keaton, (Nelson) a lovable scoundrel living in a derelict vintage car wired for electricity. He sleeps with a neon 'Rock & Roll' sign flashing over the back seat, and gets ready for a day of small-time cons like stealing a Coke from a vending machine. To the strains of awful '80s pop, Keaton pops his Izod collar and aggressively spazz-dances toward Andrew Dice Clay, who's going to break Keaton's finger if he doesn't repay a debt. Enter true blue-blood Preppie Palmer Woodrow, (Dana Olsen) a lazy, drunken, abusive scumbag who doesn't want to go to Prep School, so he pays Keaton to do it for him. Everyone's problems are solved.
Except they aren't. The moment Keaton funk-dances down the hall in a bright red suit, glaring at all the genuine preppies, you know things are going to get rough. Attending his first Prep School Mixer, Keaton immediately falls for Tracey Hoover, (the delightful Jonna Lee) a development angering Hoover's real boyfriend, lunk-head Bif (played with sneering aplomb by Scott McGinnis). Vengeful boyfriend drama, D-Bag Preppie antics, mistaken identity lunacy, and Dice, what more do you want in an '80s comedy of manners? I dunno, maybe to believe that any of these jokers are real, for starters. But damn-it, as Keaton and Hoover's romance blossoms you can't help but feel for them. They've got chemistry. Then Keaton fouls it all up by starting to believe he's Woodrow.
Yes, Making The Grade is '80s through-and-through; obsessed with self and status, but conflicted in its dim view of real preppies, and the dancing, the music, oh it's so hard to take. (And if you're looking for things by which to be offended, note the film's two black characters are a wisecracking groom (stable boy) and a wisecracking maid.) But the laughs are better than those found in '80s television; cinematically Making The Grade is no Back To School, but it's fairly amusing when not exasperating. Nelson's shtick comes off as a lounge comedian prototype of Bender from Breakfast Club, yet he manages to grow with Keaton. You won't give a damn if Dice gets his money, or Keaton gets his money, or the college gets its money, because in the end that's what these movies are about is getting money. But boy, when Hoover stares deep into Keaton's smoky eyes, and her own light up like sun after a storm, that, you can buy into. Rent It.
Olive Films presents this (and their weird Exorcist-Bees-Buzzing logo) in a nice 1.85:1 HD Transfer. Detail levels are quite good for film from this era, and grain remains subtle while highlighting the film-look. Colors are rich and saturated. You'll literally feel like you're in a candy store while digging on all the lovely pastel shades the men wear. Film damage crops up and is briefly noticeable on several occasions. If I were to speculate, I'd mention that each time this happens it seems to be near when a reel-change would have occurred. At any rate, it's not a big deal.
Dolby Digital Stereo Audio gets the job done without being an attention hog. Dialog is clean, crisp, clear and easy to discern, and doesn't seem to have any bits of damage like the film source has. The music is really awful, especially the horrible dance band seen onstage in the movie, (sorry guys!) but is mixed well and in good shape also.
If I recall, Scene Selections are the sole extra on offer.
Making The Grade earns a C+, maybe a B-. It's not the greatest '80s Prep School comedy, not even close. Coming on strong with oodles of aggravating '80s style from the start, it will challenge staunch viewers. But its story of a fish-out-of-water street punk infiltrating the Ivy League only to find love, doles out enough laughs, and some serious chemistry between leads Judd Nelson and Jonna Lee, to make this bare-bones Blu-ray well worth Rent It status.