Tuesday, April 21, 2009

American High School (2009)

Directed by Sean Patrick Cannon
Starring Jillian Murray, Aubrey O'Day, Nikki Ziering
Rated R

"Talk back again, and the next time you have your period, it'll be through your mouth."

There's a fundamental flaw to American High School's premise that it never quite shakes. The story, in essence, is about a pretty high school senior named Gwen (Murray). She's married to Holden (Talan Torriero), the school's resident Ferris Buehler, and her father, Kip Dick (Hoyt Richards) is a famous, Hasselhoff-esque actor. She's running for prom queen, and her hobby is public sex. She also happens to be adorable. So what's the problem? Well, she's the most unpopular girl in the whole school, that's what. Why? Because her dad's famous, and she married the cool guy, and she likes to fuck in the bushes.

I know, I'm as confused about it as you are. We are thrust headlong into this bizarre world of ceaseless hostility with no real explanation for why any of this is happening. Perhaps sensing that his core conflict makes no sense, director Cannon just makes his actors pour the abuse on relentlessly, as if we will finally crack, ala Lord of the Flies, and just go along with Gwen's stoning. I'm sure this kind of approach works wonders in religious cults and sleeper cells, but it's pretty off-putting in a teen sex comedy.

Perhaps I should paint a picture of the wild, wild world of American High School for you. Two over-aged knobs, Jonny Awesome (Brian Drolet) and Matt Mysterio (James Foley) represent the male populace of this could-be-anywhere institution. Instantly repellent, these two rule the school with such an iron fist that Awesome doesn't even wear a shirt to class, and they are free to hurl insults at anyone, without consequence. It goes without saying that they've had sex with most of the girls in school, including Hillary (Christine Aguilera doppelganger O'Day), Trixie (Davida Williams), and Dixie (Alex Murrel), the resident mean girls. Crazy-eyed Hillary has sights set on two things: the prom queen title, and Gwen's husband.

I'm not sure why Gwen and Holden are husband and wife in this fractured fairy tale. If it is to add dramatic weight, then it fails, because you never really see any affection between the two of them. Sure, they fuck in weird places, and Gwen is afraid she might be pregnant with Holden's baby, but when they eventually split - they even take other people to the prom -they exhibit zero heartache over the break-up. That's not a spoiler, by the way. American High School is virtually plotless, so there's nothing to give away.

As noted, Gwen and Holden are drifting apart, and since blonde-bombshell Hillary has the hots for him anyway, Holden drifts towards Gwen's arch-nemesis. This prompts her to run for prom queen, out of pure spite. She is, however, unpopular, so she'll have to cheat to win. For some, this could prove to be a torturous moral dilemma. Not so for our Gwen. You see, Gwen comes from a very fucked-up family.

Gwen's dad Kip is the kind of guy that routinely bangs his daughter's friends. In fact, he always seems to be just on the verge of making out with/fucking her, as well. Kip's character is simply id run wild, and he offers no comfort or protection whatsoever for his child. In fact, he often joins in on the verbal abuse.

Her brother Buzz (Kyle Sabihy) is tattooed vermin who would rather have sex with a prostitute than attempt a relationship. She has no mother and no friends, and the only one who will listen to her is the pervy school nurse, Doogy (Scotty Kyle, the only truly funny actor in the entire film), who doles out sensible advice and gentle encouragement between inappropriate shoulder rubs and requests for oral sex.

Oh right, the faculty. American High School always hovers on the edge of absurdity, especially when the teachers are involved. Perhaps that's why the history teacher is named Mr. Seuss (Pat Jankiewicz, who plays the role as though he's either deaf or mentally challenged). There is almost no attempt to ground the school day in reality.

The principal is a lecherous dwarf (Martin Klebba) and the art teacher/vice principal, Miss Apple (Zeiring) is frequently topless sexpot who is married to the nerdy Seuss but willing to swing with anyone in eyesight. Gwen's father is often seen in class, as well, usually with a student on his lap. In fact, all of the school-bound scenes look exactly like 80's porn set-ups, only without the payoff.

So there you go. That's pretty much it. As I mentioned, there's no actual plot, but there are a few sequential events, none of which seem important enough to mention. There is, however, a "Bikini Prom", which seems like an idea whose time has come. Crazily enough, Trini Lopez shows up to perform La Bamba. Gwen stuffs the ballot boxes and steals the prom queen title from Hillary, much to the shock and dismay of Hillary and her cabal of mean girls.

After the prom, she gets into a car with prom king Jonny Awesome - she went with him to the prom to make her estranged husband jealous - and he tries to goad her into a blowjob. When she rebuffs him and splits, he starts bawling. And so we are left there, with King Nozzle crying his eyes out. There's just simply no way out of this wretched scene, and so we just fade to black, as if we're watching an overwrought television melodrama from 1976. And perhaps, on some level, that's what this is. After all, at its tiny, barely beating heart, this story is about one girl's uphill struggle to reach adulthood while navigating through a bad marriage, a dysfunctional relationship with her careless father, and the indifference and outright hostility of her peers. Minus the leaden shock humor, this could easily be an afterschool special starring Kristy McNichol. It is certainly as depressing.

And so, Gwen circles Graduation Day on her calendar, and we are treated to the about-face we have apparently been searching for. Hillary attempts to walk away from her botched prom queen effort and this whole dastardly school with some dignity intact, but her former friends will not let her. She is pushed to the ground, where she splays out like a murder victim. Jonny Awesome and his crew of psychotics hurl typically insightful insults at her ("You've got a fat ass!"). When she is clearly shattered to tiny blonde shards, they wander off to have casual sex with one another.

Afterward, there's an everybody-wins epilogue detailing the post high-school successes of the main characters, including a lucrative career as a boy band for Awesome and his cronies. Not surprisingly, given the level of humor we're working with, they're called the Awesome Street Boys. No one receives any retribution, karmic or otherwise, for their past cruelties. This is not mandatory, of course, but this fuck-everybody worldview is pretty bleak. Then again, the 27 year old director is much closer in age to actual high school kids than I am, so perhaps he's got the modern-youth vibe nailed. If so, then the 'kids' are total douchebags.

We are left, then, with a wholly unsatisfying conclusion. The bad guys not only get away, but they continue to thrive. Where, I ask you, is the revenge of the nerd? In the last scene, we are in Gwen's bedroom, where she talks to the world via her webcam.
"Sometimes life blows," she tells us, while she chews on a Popsicle.
"So you just have to sit back, relax, and enjoy the blowjob."

Say what now?

There was a time, really, when young filmmakers and artists had insight, and empathy, and the ability to touch hearts, minds, and funny bones with their craft. If Sean Patrick Cannon is any sort of indicator, those days, sadly, appear to be over. Soulless and witless, American High School has only the attractiveness of it's young cast to recommend it. Sure man, we were dumber and uglier in the 80's. But at least we had heart. And we knew how to tell a joke.

Availability: American High School is available on DVD.

Clip: American High School trailer

- Ken McIntyre


  1. You should do a review of Fraternity Vacation next. The whole "nerd gets the girl" ending has way more heart than this one!

  2. Which was the more painful viewing experience -- this film or Cougar Club?

    They both sounded brutal. Maybe you should let a movie age 10 years before you force yourself to watch it...

  3. I know, makes me sound cranky.
    I'm not though.
    They're just terrible.

  4. Oh, I don't think you sound cranky at all. I just feel bad that you have to endure such terrible movies without any redeeming values. I mean, c'mon -- you're not asking for a classic. You just want some entertainment. You deserve better.

    My comment about letting a movie age ten years was more intended to reflect the fact that a lot of these more recent movies feel like they lack any soul. I don't know. Hopefully you'll run into a string of more enjoyable fare.


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