Aug. 03, 2005 - Issue #511: John Prine
The Sky is failing
Despite an intriguing premise, Sky High doesn't rise above mediocrity
Comic-book superheroics, the 20th-century myths we all grew up with even if we weren’t comic-book readers, are fertile ground for satire, parody and general messing with. From cracking easy jokes riffing off things like phonebooth quick-changes, unweildy capes and boy sidekicks, to making deeper observations on real-word humanity by examining the psychological, political and social potentials of a world filled with ultra-human beings, the iconography of four-colour heroes provides a well-stocked workshop for writers and filmmakers. What happens when only the easiest-to-use tools and most basic materials from that workshop are used to create a comedy? Something like Sky High.
And how about that other great 20th century invention and institution, the modern North American high school? Whatever our own experiences, we all grew up in culture shaped not only by high school as an actual insitution, but high school as a pop-cultural convention. From the lightest, bounciest bubblegum dream of a mythical “best years of our lives” to the darkest byways of the private hell that is high school for many, the blackboard jungle—real and imagined—offers plenty for a comedy writer to make use of. So what happens when only the easiest, most obvious, most played-out, sub-Archie elements of pop-culture high school are deployed? Again, something like Sky High.
Michael Angarano is Will Stronghold, only son of the world’s two greatest superheroes, Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston. Big things are expected of him—superheroic things!—and the fact he’s attending his famous parents’ school—a school for superheroes!—doesn’t make things any easier for him. A bit of a late bloomer—a late super-bloomer!—he ends up stuck in with the school losers, teased and taunted, etc—super etc! He finally gains entrance into the super-cool kids’ club, but at what cost? Will he get a homecoming date? Will he realize that it’s not the Hot Girl but the Girl Next Door that’s really his true love? Will he save the school from his father’s arch-nemesis? Guess!
Seriously—guess. Chances are, you’ll guess correctly, because there isn’t a single surprise or new thing to be found in Sky High’s family-friendly, off-the-shelf, afterschool-special plot for which the superheroics and special effects are just window dressing. So why didn’t I hate it? It must be charm; Sky High’s got charm to spare. Angarano is a decent sitcom-level actor, and he and all his young costars really give it what they’ve got. Kurt Russell plays the square-jawed all-American proud papa with obvious ease. But the real movie-savers, the performers who manage to keep Sky High from being a completely disposable bit of super-nothing, are geek-favourite Bruce Campbell and Kids in the Hall alumni Kevin McDonald and Dave Foley as (respectively) the literally loudmouthed gym coach, the giant-brained mad science teacher, and the pathetically desperate washed-up former boy wonder that handles homeroom for the kids destined to be sidekicks.
With no bite outside of a couple of playful love-nips, and no laugh-out-loud moments outside of a few well-cast cameos, its surprising Sky High manages to be as pleasant as it is. Goes to show what a pure heart and a cheerful smile can do... and it doesn’t hurt that the film’s relatively low budget meant special effects and superheroic gee-whizzery had to be kept on a manageable, personal scale. A bland, forgettable, inoffensive bit of family fantasy fluff that leaves audiences with only two questions. First, if filmmakers are going to pack their soundtracks with ‘80s songs by acts like Devo, Talking Heads, why must they use weak-ass shitty covers by weak-ass shitty bands? I find it hard to believe that, even in an imaginary world where people can fly, a gymful of teens is going to “rock out” to goddamn Bowling For Soup limply covering “I Melt With You.” Second, if this is the superhero-high-school Homecoming dance... where’s the superhero-high-school football team? That might actually be worth paying money for. V
Directed by Mike Mitchell • Written by Paul Hernandez, Robert Schooley and Mark McCorkle • Starring Michael Angarano, Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston and Danielle Panabaker • Now playing
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