Review: High School

'Surprisingly solid and funny... It's rare for a stoner comedy to have so much ambition.'

William Bibbianiby William Bibbiani


There is a simple gauge one can use to judge the quality of a stoner movie: If it's still funny when you're sober, then the film in question is, at the very least, on the right track. Cheech & Chong movies are typically only funny when you're bombed out of your gourd. Whereas Gregg Araki's 2007 comedy Smiley Face is hilarious under most any circumstances. Thankfully John Stalberg's High School, while hinging entirely on a single flimsy weed joke, is surprisingly solid and funny.

That weed joke in question runs as follows: What would happen if your entire high school class all got high at once? And while that sounds like a mere bonkers setup for scene after scene of teenagers giggling, eating chips, and saying goofy weed-laced pseudo-philosophical screeds to their equally stoned teachers, High School bothers to have a story behind it. It's rare for a stoner comedy to have so much ambition. I appreciate the effort. The film's hero is a valedictorian named Henry (Matt Bush from the upcoming Piranha 3DD) who, in a fit of nostalgia, reunites with a childhood friend named Travis Breaux (the would-be John Belushi, Sean Marquette). Travis is a teenage wastoid who lives in squalor, and seems to be constantly inebriated. High School lionizes Travis to a degree, but does at least have a few scenes indicating what an outright f*ckup he is. Travis, entreating Henry to loosen up, gives him his first joint. His first pot experience involves snacks and video games. Unfortunately for Henry, his high school principal, brilliantly played as a callow and whimpering caricature by the ordinarily tough Michael Chiklis, instates a no-tolerance policy the following day, requiring that the entire student body take a mandatory drug test. Failures will be expelled. What are Henry and Travis to do but spike the bake sale brownies and get the entire school stoned, as to spoil the test results?

The usual hijinks ensue, including a trip to the local weed dealer Psycho Ed (Adrien Brody, truly terrifying), the scary demonic criminal in possession of huge amounts of ultra-potent THC powder, a few high-powered weapons, and no small amount of paranoia. Weed, High School openly acknowledges, has a dark side.

Yes, the film does have plenty of broad, simple stoned-people-do-the-darndest-things moments, but, like I said, it seems to ultimately focus on the friendship between Travis and Henry, and their out-of-control antics, making for an actual plot. Their crime of spiking the whole school is more of a desperate cover-up than an anarchic observation of the chaos they gleefully created. The stoner jokes are largely handled by the supporting cast, including a silly Colin Hanks, and cameos by the likes of Curtis Armstrong and Yeardley Smith.

High School does make one grievous error however, and that's by letting its heroes get away with their crimes. They do indicate that the zero-tolerance principal is a horrible man who should, perhaps, be punished for his stinginess, but also his own secret crimes of obsession. But the filmmakers ultimately seem to state that Travis and Henry are absolved for their actions when they, over the course of the film, steal drugs, get in trouble with dangerous murderous criminals, steal a car, steal a computer, wreck the entire school's computer system, feed drugs to hundreds of people against their will, send someone to the hospital, blackmail a fellow student, and, worst of all, sexually harass a woman. I suppose they will pay for all this, but the film seems to see the principal as a greater criminal merely for his uptight Malvolian character. The ending struck me as a bit disingenuous.

Luckily, it's an entertaining ride along the way, and will, perhaps, have you laughing a bit. Even if you're not stoned.