The School of Rock Movie Review

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A collaboration between indie auteur director Richard Linklater (Before Sunrise, Dazed and Confused) and taboo-pushing screenwriter Mike White (The Good Girl) shouldn't feel so mainstream. But that's exactly how The School of Rock plays. Content with the art house cred and critical praise they've each acquired, Linklater and White hitch their wagons to leading man Jack Black in a bid for wider acceptance, though their blasé overture receives a passing grade when it had the potential to move to the head of the class.

One look at Dewey (Black) and you can figure out the problems plaguing this bloated burnout. He's broke and jobless. His heavy metal bandmates kick him out after a botched gig. And his roommate and long-time friend Ned (White, pulling double duty) threatens him with eviction unless he can provide some rent money. When a snooty prep school calls Ned with a substitute teaching position, Dewey assumes his roommate's identity and takes over a classroom of eager young minds.

Surprisingly, Rock just doesn't rock the way you think it should. White writes a framework that relies too heavily on the "misfit makes good" formula, leaving Black plenty of room to riff his way through unoriginal scenarios. Energetic and overly-amplified, Black is the human equivalent of the "Sobig" computer virus, corrupting the hard drive of the education system. He might be improvising three-quarters of the time, but he's good at off-the-cuff sarcasm and keeps the conventional scenes moving without making them entirely humorous.

The film simply suffers from several flat notes, er, jokes. Black's interactions with his class are airtight. The clever kids manage to be earnest, extremely talented, and eager to please. Enroll them in charm school and this class would be full of valedictorians. But Dewey's attempts to encourage these enthusiastic scholars rather than exploit them (which is what we assume he'd do) leans School closer to Mr. Holland's Opus than the wickedly punk Rock and Roll High School.

Things don't improve outside the classroom, where scenes tend to drag on incessantly. Black's repetitive battles with Ned's girlfriend (Sarah Silverman, wasted in a shrill role) and attempts to connive the school's frigid headmaster (Joan Cusack, also misused) are about as entertaining as a 14-minute flute solo at a Jethro Tull concert.

A tight, poppy Beatles-esque toe-tapper exists somewhere underneath the fluff of Rock. But Linklater cuts his scenes together with a bulls-eye on the funny bone of the general public. It's not his forte. By softening the blows, he creates a sweet and completely inoffensive crowd-pleaser that's overly saccharine and should dull the taste buds of his target audience. Given the level of comedic talent he's attracted, though, School becomes the cinematic equivalent of recruiting the members of Led Zep, the Sex Pistols, and the Stones, and forcing them to cover motivational elevator Muzak from Air Supply originals.

Black and Linklater offer an interesting commentary (how could they not?), which addresses in part the question of whether this film is really called School of Rock or The School of Rock. There's also a "Kid's Kommentary" track and a smattering of behind the scenes stuff, including a video clip of Jack Black begging Led Zeppelin for permission to use one of their songs in the film.

Return to the back of the class!

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The School of Rock Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, 2003

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