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Sky High

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  • Noel Vera
    Lame high By Noel Vera I couldn t believe some of the reviews Mike Mitchell s Sky High has been getting--and from reputable periodicals, too: family
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 1, 2005
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      Lame "high"

      By Noel Vera

      I couldn't believe some of the reviews Mike Mitchell's "Sky High"
      has been getting--and from reputable periodicals, too: "family
      friendly;" "well-designed for kids;" "the best (John) Hughes farce
      Hughes never made." Since when was flavorless pap good for one's
      children? The movie is essentially Brad Bird's "The Incredibles"
      drained of much of its humor, drama, and emotional edge (not a big
      fan of the Pixar movie, but it does do the job of telling its story
      well), the remains hung on the big screen for the five-year-olds in
      the audience (physically and mentally) to pick on.

      "Sky High" follows the story of one Will Stronghold (Michael
      Angarano) as he boards the bus for his first day in high school--
      your standard-issue yellow bus that takes a sudden right turn into
      an incomplete entrance ramp, flying off to the wild blue yonder.
      Turns out Will is the son of two famous superheroes--The Commander
      (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston), and the school he's
      going to is Sky High, a kind of secret educational facility designed
      for their children (how secret, I wouldn't know--seems to me
      everyone is barely paying lip service to the idea of double
      identities). Will, unfortunately, has a problem: he doesn't know
      what his super power is, or if he has any--he's been faking hints of
      it to his dad. In physical education class, the problem hits the
      fan: Coach Boom (Bruce Campbell) has lined everyone up and demanded
      that they each go up front to demonstrate their special abilities.

      At first it looks like it's going to be an interesting working-out
      of a classic family problem: how do you live up to celebrity
      parents, or parents who excel at their chosen professions and expect
      you to excel in the same profession as well? If Will had to deal
      with his powerlessness for the rest of the picture, if the parents
      had to deal with their disappointment in their strictly mundane son,
      if everyone learned how to live with that lack, perhaps find
      themselves re-defining along the way the real meaning of the
      word "superhero" and the entire basis for Sky High, maybe the
      picture might have been about something.

      As is, Will does have powers--he's just a late bloomer--and the
      picture spins off in a far less interesting direction, where two
      girls fight over Will's affections ("Some Kind of Wonderful,"
      anyone?): Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the super-popular, super-
      beautiful school president, and Layla (Danielle Panabaker), Will's
      longtime best friend and a kind of effortless hippie who doesn't
      believe in classifying people as hero and not-hero, and doesn't
      believe in using her powers (the ability to make vegetation grow and
      bloom) for violent or unnecessary ends. He also has to contend with
      Warren Peace (Steven Strait), who suffers from near-Tolstoyan angst:
      he's the son of a superhero mother and supervillain father, and he
      hates The Commander for jailing his father--and Will, by extension,
      for being The Commander's son.

      Layla and Peace are actually some of the more interesting characters
      in the picture: they suggest possibilities that the movie doesn't
      really bother to explore (opt out of this superhero paradigm, or be
      a conflicted rebel loner); their conversation together at the
      Chinese restaurant where Peace works as a busboy possesses a quality
      the rest of the picture lacks: sanity, and a sense of proportion (I
      was hoping the two of them would come to their senses and date each
      other).

      But no; no interesting directions, no complex or uncomfortable
      truths, no unexpected twists (what twists there are in the plot you
      can see coming for miles): this is safe-as-houses entertainment, and
      about as interesting. No wonder, since the script is by relative
      newcomer Paul Hernandez, and whatever freshness or innovation he had
      in mind was probably thoroughly ironed out by veteran Disney writers
      Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle (they're the writing team responsible
      for such classic Disney products as the two "Aladdin" sequels,
      the "Lion King" sequels, and episodes of "Kim Possible"). Mitchell,
      who did "Deuce Bigelow: Male Gigolo" and "Surviving Christmas" (Ben
      Affleck's painfully unfunny holiday comedy), directs the movie like
      a campy comic book (emphasis on "camp"), without any trace of style;
      Joe Dante could have done this sort of thing in his sleep and still
      make it visually interesting (only he probably wouldn't; the
      material is much too wholesome). The music for some strange reason
      is mostly forgotten songs from the '80s--don't know why, could be
      Mitchell trying to go for a John Hughes vibe or parody or something.

      The movie does have a handful of supporting performances that shine
      out--that, in fact, are better than anything else in the picture:
      Bruce Campbell (Sam Raimi's "ubermensch") bullies and harangues
      students as the superhumanly loud Coach Boomer; Lynda Carter is as
      sexy as ever (even if she hides her figure in conservative business
      suits) as Principal Powers; Cloris Leachman is as demented as ever
      as Nurse Spex--when she smiles her cheerful smile while things fall
      apart around her, you are witness to a particular brand of insanity
      (going back to early Mel Brooks) that the movie could really use
      more of.

      But I suppose the honor of best performance--and the picture--really
      belong to Kurt Russell. He's paid his dues, starting out as a child
      actor in a number of Disney movies, many of them pretty dire; he's
      grown as an actor, I think, and here he's a lot of fun, playing the
      world's greatest superhero. He tosses his lines out casually,
      strides through the room like visiting royalty, and when asked to
      act disappointed, or dismayed, puts on the necessary face like a
      patient father indulging his spoiled son. He treats the whole
      picture as something of a lark, something if not actually
      contemptible then more than a little disposable, which is probably
      more than the material really deserves.

      (First published in Businessworld, 8/26/05)

      (Comments? Email me at noelbotevera@...)
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