U.S. Release Date: October 3, 2003
Distributor: Paramount
Director: Richard Linklater
Writer: Mike White
Producer: Scott Aversano, Scott Rudin
Composer: Craig Wedren
Cast: Jack Black
Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some crude humor and drug references)

Rock and Roll Detention
by C.A. Wolski

It's a little hard to figure out what director Richard Linklater is trying to do in his newest offering School of Rock. Is it supposed to be a satire of the Dead Poets Society-type of flick? Is it supposed to be a rock-and-roll "fable" as the ads would have us believe? Is it supposed to be some sort of mutant family movie (albeit a PG-13 one)? Whatever it's supposed to be, this Jack Black vehicle is an atrocious mess.

Black is Dewey Finn, a 35-year-old rock-and-roll wannabe who has just been kicked out of his bar band and is being hassled by his substitute-teacher roommate and friend Ned (at the behest of Ned's shrewish girlfriend) for his back rent. Inevitably, Dewey assumes Ned's identity and finds himself presiding over a class of precocious fifth graders just waiting for a sagacious muse to inspire them (of course, what they get is the Oscar Madison-like Dewey). Dewey just wants to sit back and collect Ned's paycheck and strategize as to how he can win the local battle of the bands contest, considering he is lacking the key element—the band. And equally as inevitable, it turns out that the kiddies are musical prodigies, so Dewey enlists them through a horrifying deception to form his rock band.

The movie could have been a biting satire of education, ambition and conventional morality with success measured not by the size of one's soul, but by the size of one's pocketbook. Instead we are regaled with endless scenes of the conveniently talented kids rehearsing, Black doing his typical schtick (which wears thin real fast) and lame gags that won't even have the kids in the audience giggling.

For a would-be comedy, this is depressing stuff. Particularly when it comes to the kids whom we never see outside of class, and who buy into Dewey's dream lock-stock-and-barrel. There's a running gag about "sticking it to the man," but it is never acknowledged that Dewey, by imposing his will on the kids, becomes "the man" himself. The movie, distressingly, also perpetuates several stereotypes at the kids' expense. Most offensive is one child who is cast as obviously homosexual, because he likes Liza Minnelli, is designing the band's costumes and has a lisp.

Joan Cusack is wasted in a somewhat interesting performance as the school's principal. Here is a woman who was once a party girl and now is a boring conformist. A scene between her and Black in a local dive indicates that, perhaps in an early version of the script, there was supposed to be a romance between the two, but it just serves as another example of Dewey's manipulation of the system.

The most bizarre aspect of the movie is the fact that this 35-year-old loser is the front man for a band of 10-year-olds. The final performance, which ironically is one of the highlights of this fiasco, is also sort of creepy with Black writhing around and the kids doing their best Brittany Spears and Justin Timberlake impressions. Other than the music, the movie has no heart, no edge and no characters.

There are three target audiences for this mess: Black fans, music fans (because the music is sort of good) and people who hate comedies, because School of Rock is hands down one of the most unfunny comedies of the year.

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