Cheech and Chong meet John Hughes, with more than a touch of Judd Apatow thrown in, in this stoner comedy set you-know-where. Matthew Bush and Sean Marquette, who look a lot like Michael Cera and Jonah Hill stand-ins, play Henry Burke and Travis Breaux, childhood buddies who have gone their separate ways in HS but reunite one day for a trip down memory lane, during which straight-arrow, straight-A Henry unwisely smokes his first joint at slacker Travis’ urging. The fall from grace has major repercussions, because—as a result of the school’s spelling bee star (Julia Wing) wigging out on MJ in the state finals—dictatorial Principal Leslie Gordon (Michael Chiklis) announces a campus-wide drug test that will bring expulsion for anyone failing it. That threatens not only Henry’s valedictorian status but his MIT scholarship.
What to do? Travis’ bright idea is to go Alice B. Toklas on the entire student body, spiking the brownies in the annual bake sale with a particularly fine grade of weed so that everybody will fail the test. To get the secret ingredient, however, they have to steal the stash of whacked-out dealer Psycho Ed (Adrien Brody), who of course will figure out what’s happened and come to the campus to retrieve what’s his—or else.
The whole picture isn’t very well made—the staging is slipshod and the pacing erratic throughout (blame to be shared by director John Stalberg, Jr., cinematographer Mitchell Amundsen and editor Gabriel Wrye)—but the first thirty minutes of “High School” earn some smiles, despite all too many jokes focusing on that Asian spelling-bee star’s name (Phuc, get it?). At roughly the half-hour mark, however—when the guys crash Psycho Ed’s house—it begins to fall apart, growing ever more manic but at the same time crasser and less funny.
Of course, toward the close the makers have to put on the brake to allow for Henry’s Hughesian declaration of self-realization (in the form of a class presentation on Hamlet that earns him an “A”) and a kiss from the hot chick (Alicia Sixtos) he’s long admired from afar. (She’s not been a major player in the movie before this point—it’s pretty much a bromance until then—but it’s a required element in any picture following this template.) They also have to provide a mechanism not only for Henry and Travis to escape punishment but for Gordon to get his comeuppance, as Jeffrey Jones did in “Ferris Bueller.” Unfortunately, what the scripters came up with is a pretty lame twist that aims at the groin rather than the head.
If the movie goes downhill, however, the cast work hard—in some cases too hard—to keep it afloat. Bush and Marquette are hardly all-stars, but they make an amiable enough pair, and Chiklis, sporting a grotesque red wig, certainly makes a loathsome villain. Brody, however, is far less amusing than he’s trying, much too strenuously, to be (and his turn at the close is a damp squib). Colin Hanks, on the other hand, gets some laughs as Gordon’s aide-de-camp—more, certainly, than either Adhir Kalyan (as Sebastian, Henry’s nasty for top GPA) or Mykelti Williamson (as Ed’s scruffy lieutenant Paranoid).
“High School,” like the old Cheech and Chong movies, might look better through a haze of the right kind of smoke. But unassisted it’s just too sloppy and puerile to be more than sporadically funny.