I wasn't far into this flick when I began thinking that we've all been down this road before: a prestigious private school, a rebellious instructor with unorthodox teaching methods, disapproving school leadership. Yea, this is the "Dead Poets Society" wearing a clown's clothing. Just change a few variables: switch drama with juvenile comedy, switch high school with grade school, Robin Williams with Jack Black, poetry with Rock n' Roll, and "carpe diem" with "stick it to the man" and you get School of Rock. And somehow this formula works to create an enjoyable giggle film. Just don't expect knee slapping humor though: I can count on my left thumb the number of times I laughed out loud watching this.
Jack Black plays Dewey Finn, a misunderstood artist who is so misunderstood, the members of his own rock band pull a Pete-Best move on him by voting him out. This leaves Dewey without a band to compete in an upcoming battle of the bands contest, a potential source of revenue that Dewey could have used to appease his roommate's girlfriend by paying his share of the rent for once. With no band and no job, Dewey sleazes his way into a substitute teaching assignment at Horace Green Prep, the state's best elementary school. The gig was intended for Ned Schneebly, Dewey's substitute-teaching roomie, but fortunately for Dewey, a simple ID check by the school's administrators wasn't on their to-do list. Dewey even asks to get paid in cash or third-party check, but that doesn't raise suspicions. Nor does the fact that he didn't know how to spell Schneebly. "Just call me Mr. S" he says.
Now, you didn't have to watch the trailers or even know the film's title to figure out where this film was heading when, after Dewey makes a disparaging remark about teaching, his roommate tells him that he wouldn't last a single day in a class full of kids. As any movie fan worth the salt on their popcorn knows, such challenges rarely go unanswered, even if they require a metaphysical soul switching procedure (as in either version of Freaky Friday).
Dewey's teaching career starts off with complete ambivalence on his part, but his interest in the kids perks up when he discovers that they can play music. What luck. He was in need of a set of musicians to form a new band. He runs out to his decrepit van parked along side late model Volvos, collects a set of instruments, and introduces his class to their new, secret project: rock band. In addition to musicians, there are groupies, roadies, a security crew and even a band stylist with a thing for Liza Minelli. Don't bother wondering how a rock band can practice in a quiet prep school without being detected: it's not worth the amino acid computing power. Just let it go.
Horace Green is headed by Joan Cusack, who gives whole new meaning to being sent to the principal's office. A pair of eyeglasses might shield Clark Kent's secret identity, but they don't hide Cusack's sex appeal. (My grade school principal resembled Nikita Kruschev, but without all the charm.) And then there are the kids. Other than Angelo Massagli, who plays Bobby Baccalieri Jr. on "The Sopranos," they are all virtually unknowns. The really amazing thing here is that the kids in the band were recruited as musicians first, not actors. They really do a superb job, and when I learned that they played their own instruments, I was doubly impressed. I actually enjoyed the song they perform at the battle of the bands contest, and a few times I booted up the DVD just to listen to the song.
Before watching "School of Rock," I wondered if I could stand a movie staring Jack Black. He's great as the fat, somewhat annoying but lovable, wise-cracking sidekick, as he was in "High Fidelity" (that one with two Cusacks), but 90 minutes of him? I wasn't sure. To me, Jack Black is a cross between the late John Belushi and the current Philip Seymour Hoffman. He's a funny guy, and does a great job in this film, but there was still something missing with him as the star.
One head-scratching point about this film, is that it left me wondering who the target audience really is. There were about three or four lines in this film, including one about pedophilia, that should have been removed to allow the under 10 crowd to watch. It might be prudish of me, but I'm not sure my eight-year old daughter should be exposed to words such as slut. Anyway, I'll always give extra credit points to any DVD that doesn't start out by forcing the owner to watch a bunch of advertisements, unlike the DVDs from some Mickey Mouse company I know (I won't mention any names).
Do the kids win in the battle of the bands? Do rebellious teach and hot principal hook up? Do the parents find out what's going on? You'll all just have to learn this for yourselves. See you in the back row.