Obsolete Review: High School USA

School is In!

The year is 2137 – a gaggle of alien archaeologists sorting through artifacts of the ‘human’ species that long ago eradicated itself on Earth come across a special find - a time capsule (or maybe some VHS tapes and socks). These aliens are also in the mood for a light-hearted teen coming-of-age romp- they heard it was what we did best. Would you hope they came across GREASE, AMERICAN GRAFFITI, maybe ANIMAL HOUSE? Raunchy or family-friendly, you ask, say FAST TIMES, AMERICAN PIE or as aliens tend to be Disney fans, HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL? In the worst-case scenario, they would wind up with a scratchy, taped from the tube copy of this crap – HIGH SCHOOL USA.

I had fond, hazy memories of this made-for-TV hoakum from my youth- a time when Mork rainbow suspenders and the Rubik’s cube swept the nation, and the turkey was called a ‘walkin’ bird.’ Turns out nostalgia blows major chunks. Canadian-born runt Michael J. Fox (then young Reaganite Alex P. Keaton on FAMILY TIES) was being groomed as our next Mickey Rooney, soon to spring into big-screen stardom as TEEN WOLF. And who but teen sex-pot Nancy McKeon (THE FACTS OF LIFE) as his Judy Garland? (or at least Frankie and Annette) Throw in 2/3 of DIFFERENT STROKES (Todd Bridges and the ill-fated Dana Plato) and a host of 1960s TV teen has-beens that had been cluttering agents’ desks for 20 years just hoping for a warm meal, and whisk vigorously.

It’s the age-old battle of geeks vs. preps, here led by ‘BMOC’ Anthony Edwards as Beau Middleton, the guy with the best hair, fastest car, highest collar and McKeon as Beth Franklin, his girlfriend. Fox’s indie senior J.J. Manners (nice) has had it with Beau and the unthinking clique mentality at ‘Excelsior Union High School,’  and is just looking to make a ‘statement’ to the prep cattle before he escapes to the real world.

The movie meanders for a while, letting us soak in all our favorites- Tony “Wally Cleaver” Dow as principal, Dwayne “Dobie Gillis” Hickman as the science teacher who sucks up to the preps for a prestigious award, Dawn “Mary Ann” Wells as the ditzy home-ec lady, and in an inspired choice- Bob “Gilligan” Denver as the drunk dad of Crispin Glover, the ultimate geek who would soon be reunited with Fox in Back to the Future. Glover, as always, is riveting in the role of supreme over-alls spazz Archie Feld, who is goaded by his pal, fat sweaty guy Chuckie Dipple, to ask girls out and miserably fail. When Beau asks Archie what they could possibly have in common, he responds “Do you like cheese?”

So, in his effort to best Beau and win over Beth, J.J. recruits the motley band of geeks, including the talents of best pal Otto (Bridges), a science geek who has built a shitty tin-can robot (midget in suit) that responds to his voice commands. Archie’s drunk dad, see, just bought this awesome Trans-Am, which J.J.  wants to use to race Beau in a final showdown. Beau gets wise to this plan, and sends his two minion cheerleader whores (including Crystal “Wings” Bernard) in punk disguises to seduce Archie and Chuck with the promise of scoring in the Trans-Am, then total it. Oh no- what now? 

Michael J. Fox & Nancy McKeon

Don’t worry- J.J. is the man with the plan. First – a little sleight-of-hand, as they drop passed-out drunk dad Gilligan behind the wheel, convincing him that he wrecked the car. Then J.J. allies the geek troops to soup up his old bucket-of-bolts for the big race, in a scene straight from ANIMAL HOUSE or MEATBALLS, with “Why not? substituting for “It just doesn’t matter.” One of the geeks (Jon ‘Lazlo/ Uncle Rico’ Gries), in a nice touch, is the ‘older guy with a kid’ classmate. So they super-charge that jalopy up, even sacrificing Otto’s (useless) robot for insulating metal. On the big race day, Beau tries to cheat again, starting even before the final gun, but J.J. still whips him, using the ‘secret’ red turbo button that shoots him across the finish line and into Beth’s arms. Beth breaks up with Beau at the prom, and she and J.J. share a dance- but wait- is that a new robot on stage? Sure enough- that fucking robot (which looks just like the first one) pulls Beau’s pants down for the money shot and starts to dance as  Bridges has the final word (Robot – dance!)

Wait – alien archaeologists come back! Where are you going? We can do better, really (some nudity at least). I don’t know what we were thinking. Have you seen POISON IVY?