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School of Rock
2003 - PG-13 - 108 Mins.
Director: Richard Linklater
Producer: Scott Rudin
Written By: Mike White
Starring: Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White,
Review by: Harrison Cheung
   

Bet you've never seen a guy play guitar without his hands before!
When indie director Gus Van Sant directed GOOD WILL HUNTING, hardcore moviegoers cried foul at what looked like another indie director sell-out, a mainstream commercial movie aimed at the feel-good, gimme an Oscar, DEAD POET'S SOCIETY crowd.

So what are we to make of indie director, Richard Linklater, who's best known for his Gen X nostalgia like BEFORE SUNRISE or Sundance faves like TAPE or WAKING LIFE? With SCHOOL OF ROCK, he's made a rock & roll version of DEAD POET'S SOCIETY only, in the 'outrageous-teacher-who's-a-comic' Robin Williams role, we have Jack Black.

Jack Black is sort of a Danny DeVito/Sam Kinison for the Gen Y crowd. He's a barrel-shaped cult rocker/comedian probably best known to movie-goers for obnoxious supporting roles in SHALLOW HAL and HIGH FIDELITY. His unusual appeal is probably akin to that of a cantankerous overweight tabby.

Carpe diem, kiddies! Jack Black has the lead role and he plays Dewey Finn, a guy in his 30's who's never gotten past the garage band stage. He still dreams of winning a 'Battle of the Bands' to become a rock & roll star. But unlike those VH1 Behind the Scenes confessions where a lot of rockers were in it for the sex, drugs and rock & roll, Finn is a true scholar of rock as art form. So when he decides to assume his roommate's identity as a substitute teacher, he becomes a teacher of rock as freedom of expression. Carpe diem indeed.

Finn ends up teaching a class of 10-year-olds in an upper crust prep school. When he becomes inspired by their classical music talents, he decides to form a rock band from scratch to compete in the 'Battle of the Bands'. It's the ultimate class project that starts off for selfish reasons but ends up becoming a life-changing experience for both students and their eager teacher.

The always wonderful Joan Cusack plays the uptight principal. There's great comedy potential down every hall here but the kids are uneven performers, probably chosen for their musical talents over their acting ability. Each kid in class are stereotypes of every after-school special. We have the Asian kid who wants to be cool. The quiet girl who wants to break out in song. And the over-achiever who is looking for a gold star in everything she does. The result is that some of the DEAD POETS manipulative moments come off a little wooden and unconvincing.

Anyone who remembers DEAD POETS SOCIETY will recall what happens to Robert Sean Leonard's character when his father gets a little too oppressive over his desire to play Puck in the school play. We have a similar track happening in SCHOOL OF ROCK though screenwriter, Mike White, who plays the meow-whipped roomie and was also superb in CHUCK AND BUCK and THE GOOD GIRL, avoids any heavy, emotional scene. While poetry was the liberator in DEAD POETS, rock & roll, Meatloaf-style, is the savior in this movie. But ultimately, SCHOOL OF ROCK ends up being a one man show - Jack Black, in all his roly-poly Danny DeVito-like energy, as the ultimate rock & roll teacher.

This one man show is both SCHOOL OF ROCK's strength and weakness. If you like Jack Black and are entertained by his manic joy of guitar rock, it's a wonderful movie about someone who gets to share the love. The fun 1970's guitar rock soundtrack targets the Boomers and Gen X and makes this movie very kid-friendly. But if you don't find Jack Black appealing, the movie will feel like a VH1 Behind the Scenes special - but about an artist in whom you have absolutely zero interest.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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