I had largely forgotten about 'High School,' a stoner comedy I first saw at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. I remember going to the screening, laughing a few times, and then walking out and not thinking about it again. It's just that kind of movie. There isn't anything new or original that it has to say about stoner comedies, but it does provide a few laughs along the way, enough to be appealing while you're watching it at least.
Henry (Matt Bush) is the valedictorian-to-be at his high school. His GPA has somehow reached above that perfect 4.0 mark. He's dead set on going to an Ivy League college after graduation. His outlook is bright. The same can't be said for perpetual stoner Travis (Sean Marquette). Travis and Henry used to be friends before Henry became the smart one and Travis became the burn-out. The two have traveled their separate ways in life, until one day they meet up and get high together.
Meanwhile, fresh off a humiliating drug scandal at a spelling bee the school's principal, Dr. Leslie Gordon (Michael Chiklis) vows that his school will be drug free. So he institutes mandatory drug testing the next day. Anyone found to have drugs in their system will be summarily expelled. This is bad news for the school's smartest person, because Henry just ended up smoking his first blunt. He'll test positive for sure.
A scheme is hatched. Travis and Henry will get the whole school high, skewing the drug test results, and therefore making them invalid. All comedies like this hinge on the outrageousness of the situation and whether you buy into it. The good thing about 'High School' is that it plays most of its plot in a down-to-earth mode that doesn't go too far over the top. Well, everything except the crazy drug dealer named Pyscho Ed played by Adrien Brody. Although, his over-the-top-ness is quite welcome most of the time because I couldn't help but keep thinking, "This is so weird seeing Adrien Brody play a tattooed drug dealer with a propensity for violence." It's strange seeing Brody in this role but it works. The same holds true for big bad Michael Chiklis playing a weirdo principal who is the complete antithesis of Vic Mackey.
Like all the best laid plans, things soon go awry. Travis and Henry find themselves at odds with each other more than once. Fighting over the expected things that they'd fight over (smarts, social status, and future goals). Henry is sick of Travis' stoner ways and Travis is annoyed with Henry's I'm-too-smart-for-everyone attitude.
The cast is a surprising well of talent. We've already talked about Chiklis and Brody and still have yet to talk about Colin Hanks in a role that, with anyone else, would've been a throwaway part. Hanks is the assistant principal and is usually in his own scenes, most of the time acting whacked out of his gourd on the drugs he unwittingly took. He's funny and charming, just what you'd expect from him.
'High School' ends up being a situational stoner comedy that doesn't rewrite the genre (give me 'Half Baked' any day of the week) in as much as it provides a few hearty chuckles as we watch two kids try desperately to rig a drug test in the most impossible way that they can.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'High School' is an Anchor Bay release. It comes in a standard eco-friendly keepcase. It's been pressed onto a 25GB Blu-ray Disc. It's labeled as being a Region A release.
The 1080p presentation of 'High School' accurately reminds me of what I saw when I first watched the movie at Sundance. It has a very natural, filmic look to it. Like most comedies it boasts a warm color palette which produces primaries that pop. Even the darker scenes, like inside Psycho Ed's house, have some vibrant color; his green toad and his blood-red eyes for a couple of examples.
Detail is here too. Something very noticeable throughout the movie is the intricate and well-defined wisps of smoke floating in the air as the characters toke up. Facial detail is rich also. Adrien Brody's scraggly beard and braided hair is superbly detailed. Even in the darkness you can easily see his various tattoos covering just about every inch of his body. Pores, lip lines, brow creases and freckles are all effortlessly discernible.
Blacks are extremely deep. Again, back to Psycho Ed's place for a great example of this. The inky blacks and the well-delineated shadows in his house offer great depth and dimension to the picture. They never appear flat or unresolved. Truthfully, for a title as unknown as this one I'm surprised it looks so good in HD.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix isn't as noteworthy as the video presentation was. Don't get me wrong, it does its job well, but there were a few scenes that never really lived up to their potential mainly because the surround channels lacked the appropriate ambient sound. This is noticeable during a scene where a kid jumps a skateboard off a balcony in the school and lands on a lunch table below. The cafeteria is full of kids, but on a smattering of "oohs" and "ahhs" from the crowd below make it into the rear speakers. This is what it's like for most of the movie. Scene after scene we're faced with crowded rooms of students in an echo-filled school environment, but the rear channels fail to capture that elusive enveloping quality.
Dialogue is clear though and never gets lost. This is key because most of Brody's lines are hushed, guttural whispers that would easily become intelligible in an inferior mix. The front speakers also harbor most of the movie's musical soundtrack, sharing little with the rear channels. Bass is reserved for the beats of the hip-hop songs on the soundtrack and also a few action packed moments like when the guys are at Psycho Ed's house and also during a few car wrecks.
It's an audio mix that will get you through the movie just fine, but there's nothing memorable about it. Technically, there aren't any major flubs; there's simply just a missed opportunity to incorporate more ambient sound into the mix.
There are a ton of stoner comedies out there and 'High School' lands somewhere in the middle of the pack. It's a trip of a ride through drug-induced hallucinations and crazy schemes that don't work. It doesn't come off as memorable though. It's funny while you're watching, but it's easily forgetten afterward. This one may be worth a look if the cast and subject matter appeal to you.