this way: Jack Black (right) with student in The
School of Rock.
by Richard Linklater
of Rock is a feel-good foray into fourth-grade rebelliousness.
Starring Jack Black, the comedic actor who came to fame in
High Fidelity by playing a geeky music-obsessive, the
film sanitizes the role of rock music in the lives of misfits.
It also commodifies Black, giving him a role (the film was
written expressly for him) that is constructed around his
gymnastic facial expressions. Oddly enough, this marginally
amusing comedy was written by Mike White, the disturbingly
original screenwriter responsible for two edgy indie hits,
Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl. Playing
to School of Rock’s retrograde tameness is director
Richard Linklater, who shows only hints of an understanding
of youthful alienation and the power of subculture, qualities
that made his Slacker and Dazed and Confused
required viewing for Generation X. Apparently, all involved
were ready to exit the fringe, and decided that playing it
safe was the only way to rock the mainstream.
Black is Dewey Finn, a minimally talented guitarist. White
is his nebbishy roommate, Ned Schneebly, a substitute teacher
whose uptight girlfriend (Sarah Silverman) lays down the law
to Dewey: Pay some rent or move out. And then Dewey is fired
from his own band and replaced by a ridiculously sexy poseur
who is devoid of Dewey’s passionate espousal of rock clichés.
(It’s a shame that Dewey is dumped so quickly, since the chubby
Black’s turbocharged embodiment of those clichés is by far
the funniest element in the movie.) Desperate for cash, Dewey
impersonates his roommate and lands a teaching gig at a pricey
prep school for the progeny of straitlaced yuppies. Lesson
One: Sticking It to the Man. Lesson Two: Christina Aguilera
and Puff Daddy Are Not Rock. As the soundtrack makes clear
(inserting iconic sound bites is a Linklater specialty), only
classic rock from a lifetime ago qualifies as rock.
The film is not only savvy, but somewhat insightful about
tapping into the nostalgia of parents who’ve given up their
own rocked-out lifestyle, as well as reliving the pre-MTV
era when there were whole classrooms of fourth-graders in
need of a little anti-
authority prodding. Under the exuberant tutelage of Black’s
“Mr. S.,” the kids come into their own as musicians, sound
techies, backup singers and assorted hangers-on. A shy diva,
an insecure pianist and a depressed guitarist are among the
pupils released from a classical-music education in order
to discover their inner cool. The class smarty-pants is promoted
to manager, and teacher and students bond while preparing
for a slot in a battle-of-the-bands contest.
In this sweet-natured tale, even “the Man”—tightly wound Principal
Mullins (Joan Cusack)—is regarded with sympathy. It seems
that long ago, before intensive
parent-teacher conferences took their toll, Mullins, too,
had a wild side, and once tossed her hair in abandon to Stevie
Nicks (the inventive Cusack holds her own in the
physical-comedy department). But School’s flashcard
is Black. Utterly unselfconscious about his doughboy physique
(except when he’s using his flab for some gentle visual humor),
and with an irony-free eagerness to please, he’s irresistibly
likeable in spite of the nonstop mugging. And as he proved
in Shallow Hal, he’s terrific with kids.
But even with Black nearly splitting his prep-school shorts
onstage, School of Rock is little more than
an Afterschool Special with a bigger budget, and the
musical sequences are played heartwarmingly, and boringly,
straight (the musical spoofs in the universally dissed Marci
X are infinitely more entertaining). By the end of the
battle of the bands, many over-12 viewers may be waiting eagerly
for a particular Van Halen snippet: “Class dismissssed!”
by Carl Franklin
After 90-plus minutes of film-noirish plot twists, sex and
violence, Out of Time comes down to one desperate woman
and two men with guns on a derelict steamboat. All are scared
and anything can happen. The audience isn’t quite sure whom
to root for. It’s a delicious cinematic moment.
No one in this thriller from director Carl Franklin is quite
who they seem, and that’s one of the most satisfying aspects
of the film. Franklin, who has made a series of less-than-compelling
big-budget Hollywood flicks, finally recaptures the unpredictable
violence and sense of emotional quicksand that made his indie
debut, One False Move, so memorable.
Matt Lee Whitlock (Denzel Washington) is the police chief
of a small Florida town within commuting distance of Miami.
With no crime to speak of, a big night for the chief is walking
down the minuscule main drag checking to see that all the
doors are locked.
Andy Griffith he’s not, however. Whitlock is separated from
wife Alex (Eva Mendes), a detective with the state police.
He is picking up the slack by fooling around with an old girlfriend,
sultry Ann (Sanaa Lathan, playing against her usual good-girl
image). He thinks nothing of knocking back a few beers and
dropping in on Ann for a little sexual role-playing—while
on duty. Ann, unfortunately, is married to Chris (Dean Cain),
football star with a bad attitude and worse temper. Still,
the chief seems well-satisfied with his busy, if messy, personal
life; he also lucks into a big drug bust that earns him the
praise of his town and the media.
Before you can say “Pride goeth before a fall,” it all turns
to shit for Whitlock. In trying to play the hero, the chief
finds himself in the middle of a money swindle and a murder.
As in the 1946 thriller The Big Clock (and its 1987
remake, No Way Out), the hero must try to solve the
crime before the rest of the investigators figure out he’s
the most likely suspect.
The movie then becomes a split-second game of cat-and-mouse
between Whitlock, his ex (who has been assigned to the case),
the DEA and a shifty con man the chief only met once. Little
of what happens would stand up to intensive scrutiny (or a
slower pace), but the director keeps the film moving like
a freight train. Much credit must also go to Washington, who
shows a vulnerability and humor often missing in his performances.
He makes the audience empathize with Whitlock.
The film has plenty of local flavor. The rest of the cast
is interesting in quirky ways; the chief’s interactions with
a pompous DEA agent are tense and funny. The chief is particularly
lucky to have his own wily version of Barney Fife, a nerdy,
quick-thinking medical examiner (John Billingsley). This snappy
mix of sex and violence doesn’t reinvent the film noir, but
makes for an exciting ride to the satisfying ending on that