Low-brow laughs allow ‘High School’ to barely pass

MARIJUANA BROWNIES put the "high" in "High School," a wantonly irresponsible comedy about a stunt that turns an entire campus into stoners.


When an authoritarian principal (Michael Chiklis) mandates mandatory drug-testing a few days before school ends, panicked valedictorian Henry (Matt Bush) enlists class burnout Travis (Sean Marqutte) in a scheme to feed fortified brownies to the entire school, thus rendering the test results immaterial.

Director John Stalberg Jr. stages the movie as an escalating slapstick comedy, gradually adding far-out characters (Adrien Brody as a unabomber-ish local dealer, Mykelti Williams his henchman, so paranoid his name is Paranoid) to heighten the pitch. Henry also has a backstabbing nerd rival (Adhir Kalyan), and of course there is the foxy dream girl (Camille Mana) Henry does not have the nerve to approach.

Good clean fun, except it’s not good (the drug is question is a dangerously concentrated THC synthetic), it’s not clean (urine samples are spilled), and after awhile, it’s not even all that fun. The movie goes flat when it needs to be upping the tempo and hitting new heights of absurdity.

"High School" also has a backward view ("21 Jump Street" and "Mean Girls" were much smarter on this subject) of big high school brains like Henry — it assumes they must be compulsive overachievers, whose striving compensates for some sort of yawning social void or personality flaw.

That’s one possibility — another is that the smartest kid in the class is the simply the smartest kid in the class, that he prefers the nourishment of intellectual challenge to a munchies-fueled Frito binge. Hopefully Henry will find it at MIT, building more efficient solar panels, or making algae fuel, or curing cancer.


He’s off to a good start — in the prologue, we see he’s built an electromagnetic pulse machine (plot point!) for his senior science project. Yet by movie’s end, Travis has convinced him that he’s misspent his high school years and has ingested an insufficient amount of cannabis. And while Henry is forced into a moment of warped introspection, pothead Travis is held to no measuring stick at all. It’s a lack of scrutiny that I would call chronic.


Contact movie critic Gary Thompson at 215-854-5992 or thompsg@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "Keep It Reel," at philly.com/keepitreel.

Review | ss

High School

Directed by John Stalberg Jr. With Adrien Brody, Michael Chiklis, Colin Hanks, Matt bush, Sean Marquette, Mykelti Williamson. Distributed by Anchor Bay.
Running time: 90 minutes
Parent’s Guide: R, drug use


High School

Directed by Jr, John Stalberg. With Michael Chiklis, Adhir Kalyan, Adrien Brody, Colin Hanks, Matt Bush, Sean Marquette, Yeardley Smith. Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Running time: 1 hours, 39 minutes.

Parent's guide: R (for pervasive drugs and language, crude and sexual content, some nudity - all involving teens).