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Brains, Brawn and Beyond.
Plot: Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is the son of two famous superheroes, The Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston). When he goes to a special high school for the offspring of heroes (“Sky High”), he initially must cope with the fact that everyone around him appears more skilled and powerful. Eventually, however, Will discovers his own powers and must use them to save his family and friends from an old nemesis.
Ever since I can remember—okay, ever since “Aladdin”—it’s seemed as though movies ostensibly aimed primarily at kids have been gradually taken over by adult humor and winking allusions and references intended to keep the parents that accompany those kids from being too bored by material that might be fresh or interesting to their children, but old hat to them.
The speed at which genres now cycle through the stages of innovation, convention, cliché, and parody, is nowhere more evident than in film, where yesterday’s innovative reenergizing of the superhero genre (“The Incredibles”) is already hurtling past the conventional representation stage straight to cliché. High school is hell, super powers or no super powers; yeah, we got that with the “X-Men” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”.
But I digress from my main point, which is that although “Sky High” may be on the “day-old” bakery shelf, it’s not quite stale yet, and may serve as passable entertainment for the PG crowd to which it is directed.
Here are five things I liked, or at least appreciated, about the film:
After ten years of “Beverly Hills 90210,” it is refreshing to see a high school depicted with actors who look like they could actually be in high school and characters who still feel awkward over that first kiss and whether or not mom and dad will give them a scornful look. I have no doubt that teens like those depicted in “Mean Girls” and “Thirteen” exist, but I also have no doubt that there are still a few places on the globe where harassment from the school bully is a bigger fear than not being able to score your next fix.
Steven Strait as Warren Peace, Danielle Panabaker as Layla, and Nicholas Braun as Zach all give wonderful, self-effacing performances that serve the film rather than trying to steal it.
The attitude towards adults and authority is a bit more positive than in most high school or PG movies. Unlike in movies such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or “Home Alone” (both of which I’m nevertheless mildly fond of), the mark of cool here is not how contemptuous one can be towards adults nor how imbecilic, ignorant, and easily fooled one can make them look.
To be sure, The Commander and Jet Stream are a bit clueless about the burdens their son has to carry as a result of their fame and lofty expectations, but they do love him and he them, which is increasingly rare to find in movies these days. Even Coach Boomer, grown-up sidekick Mr. Boy (love that name), and bus driver Ron Wilson are used for comic relief rather than as magnets for cynical disdain. We may find them ridiculous, as the film occasionally does, but we aren’t really egged on to disdain them, because the film doesn’t.
The major themes—that true friends are more important than popularity and that making good decisions is a better sign of maturity than raw power—may be presented in a heavy-handed manner, but there is nothing wrong with them, is there?
Lynda Carter can still bring it, bracelets or no bracelets. Her presence, limited as it is, along with that of Cloris Leachman (in a nice cameo role) and that of Russell provides a pleasant, nostalgic nod for some of the non-children in the audience, as does the schmaltzy, ’80s soundtrack. Film critic Peter T. Chattaway has suggested that film’s paternal grandfather is John Hughes, which seems like a good observation to me. If you remember films such as “Sixteen Candles”, “Pretty in Pink”, and “Some Kind of Wonderful” fondly, than you’ll probably find “Sky High” a pleasant romp through your high school movie yearbook.
Overall, the film isn’t going to be mistaken for “Citizen Kane” or even “Donnie Darko” for that matter, but it also isn’t Porky’s. It’s nice to see the occasional film that accepts a PG rating, even if that means fewer swear words and less cleavage than it could probably “get away with” and still have most parents let their kids see it. Jet Stream wears latex, not spandex, and villains are sent to the detention room rather than burned alive.
My Grade: B
Violence: Mild / Profanity: Minor / Sex/nudity: None