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SCHOOL OF ROCK (director/writer: Richard Linklater; screenwriter: Mike White; cinematographer: Rogier Stoffers; editor: Sandra Adair ; music: Craig Wedren; cast: Jack Black (Dewey Finn), Joan Cusack (Principal Rosalie Mullins), Mike White (Ned Schneebly), Sarah Silverman (Patty), Joey Gaydos (Zack, the lead guitar player), Kevin Clark (Fred, The Drum Player), Maryam Hassan (Tomika, the shy singer), Caitlin Hale (Marta, the backup singer), Rebecca Brown (Katie, the bass player), Robert Tsai (Lawrence, the keyboard player), Aleisha Allen (Alicia, The backup singer), Brian Falduto (Billy, the stylist), Miranda Cosgrove (Summer Hathaway, the band manager); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Scott Rudin; Paramount; 2003)
“Makes for unessential viewing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is underground filmmaker Richard Linklater’s (“Dazed and Confused“/”Waking Life“/”Tape“) venture into commercial films and big box office, where he directs and cowrites with Mike White of “Chuck and Buck” fame an icky formulaic mainstream comedy about a fifth-grade class of upscale elementary prep students under the tutelage of a fraudulent substitute teacher who turns the class into rockers. It’s perfectly ludicrous entertainment geared for the entire family. The kids, all professional musicians, shine. While Jack Black as the loser rocker sparkles as the obnoxious but energetic substitute teacher with the zealot’s rock message in hand to save the world. Though a film that makes for unessential viewing, it still is somewhat pleasing in a genial mainstream kind of way as a love letter to the rock world. Jack Black basically plays the same part he always does, of the guy with the funny walk, animated expressions, many tics, and wise guy retorts. The difference is that this time he’s asked to carry the pic and not be a supporting character who makes the stars look good by his silly manic antics. It’s a one-note joke film about how uptight everyone is and all they need is someone to take charge as the fool and release them to be real children again. That idea wears thin, but it was funny watching Jack take over the class and lay his rock ‘n’ roll trip down. It was the kind of role Jerry Lewis made his rep on back in his Martin and Lewis days.

Dewey Finn (Jack Black) is dumped by his heavy-metal band, as he is told he sucks as a lead singer and his shirtless stage dives into the audience don’t work. In the pad he shares with wimpy Ned Schneebly (Mike White) and his rigid shrewish girlfriend Patty (Sarah Silverman), he’s asked for back rent not paid in ages or to vacate the premises. The corpulent heavy-metal guitarist used to be in the same band with Ned, who quit to become a substitute teacher. Ned’s girlfriend has no interest in music, as she works a straight job in the mayor’s office.

When Black receives a call from the principal of the Horace Green prep school, Roz Mullin (Joan Cusack), asking for Mr. Schneebly to emergency substitute teach a fifth-grade class for a teacher who will be out on sick leave, he jumps at the chance to make some money by posing as Mr. Schneebly. When the class looks at him dumbfounded at his negativity to their orderly class procedures and his love for rock, he tells them rock’s maxim is “sticking it to the man.” He then tells them the man ruined rock ‘n’ roll with MTV. The film’s only attempt at shooting for edgy adult humor.

Black confronts the well-behaved class of shy ten year olds by not teaching and giving them recesses, until he spots them in a music class and sees they are talented classical musicians. He proposes to teach them about rock music when he’s shocked to find out that they never heard of Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, AC/DC, and Yes. In a matter of a few weeks Black transforms his class of gold star seeking nerds into a band the kids proudly name School of Rock. He accomplishes this by fooling the stressed out principal (a closet Stevie Nicks fan) and the kid’s demanding yuppie parents by operating musical lessons in secret, as he gains the trust of the entire class to carry out this deception. He gets a shy black girl gospel singer to open up and perform, a browbeaten classical guitarist to dare for the first time do something his overbearing dad frowns on, a gay student to be a stylist, a goody-goody girl to excel as the band manager, an Asian keyboard player to try and be cool, and so on, as everyone in the class is given a chance to be part of the hip rock scene. The biggest lesson is reserved for the self-absorbed infantile Black, who realizes his talent is to teach rock music and not be a performer. It all culminates in a clich√© driven Rocky-like finish, as the underdog class band competes against adult rock bands to win $20,000 in a contest called “Battle of the Bands.” Black believes “one great rock show can change the world.” Instead the antiestablishment Black learns how to survive in the establishment without tearing it down and everyone predictably learns a lesson about life.

Rock as the people’s music and a force in the cultural revolution, is what is explored in this zany comedy. Despite its obvious limits, it was a fun lesson in how to make a silly movie. The only thing is, I think Richard Linklater is a really fine director and this is not one of his better films. There are many other mainstream directors who could have achieved the same desired results about the infectious nature of pop-culture, but could never have made something as original and fresh as “Waking Life.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”