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Marina Antunes [DVD News 09.05.12] comedy

It's hard to pinpoint what went wrong with John Stalberg's feature film debut High School. Sure, the stoner comedy debuted at Sundance in 2010 to mixed reviews but it wasn't noted as a disaster of filmmaking so the reasoning for why anyone would sit on it for two years remains behind the closed boardroom doors of Hollywood.

Stalberg's comedy, which he co-wrote with Erik Linthorst and Stephen Susco, stars Matt Bush as Henry, a smart kid on the way to being named valedictorian and taking off to MIT on an academic scholarship. On a seemingly normal day, he crashes into the principal's car while trying to avoid a head-on collision with Travis (Sean Marquette), the school stoner. The pair, once friends and now thrown together by circumstance, find themselves rekindling a tiny portion of their relationship and they share a joint, a simple mistake that takes on epic proportions when the principal Dr. Leslie, brilliantly played by an unrecognizable Michael Chiklis, announces mandatory drug testing of the entire student body with those failing being expelled.

On the brink of losing his scholarship and therefore his future, a desperate Henry agrees to Travis' plan (when you're high, you have to think like a stoner): steal a highly potent jar of drugs, bake trays of chocolate brownies and replace the drug filled goodies for the ones the school moms baked for the annual bake sale. The ridiculous plan to get everyone high so that the tests have to be re-taken, proves to be successful but not without a few speed bumps not to mention a series of events that gets a few into more trouble than anyone bargained for.

Though the laughs aren't as constant as with some of the other recent stoner comedies floating around (most notably Harold & Kumar and the under seen Smiley Face), it has a bit of heart not to mention a rather innovative approach to the trope. The results are a mixed bag of crude humour, some hilarious stunts and some genuinely touching moments that speak to friendship and high school life. A few of the laughs, most notably anything with the adults being stoned, seem more like a gimmick than anything else though Colin Hanks has some fantastic moments as the Vice Principal or as he says "Assistant Dean" which brings up an interesting point: what sort of public school has a Dean, an Assistant Dean and a Board of Governors? Helps explain how Dr. Leslie manages to call for drug testing but no further explanation is provided. Come to think of it, much of the script is dependent on contrivances but seriously, the day I start talking about plausibility in a stoner movie is the day I need to smoke a joint.

Much has been made about Adrien Brody as drug thug Psycho Ed and though the performance is fun, it's more of a cameo than anything else. He has a great scene near the end of the movie's first act which helps move the story along but things don't really pick-up steam until all of the cards are revealed and it looks like the boys are at their end. It's here, when it looks like both Henry and Travis are headed for a life of drug dealing for Ed, that a few nuggets of comedy gold emerge.

Though High School isn't exactly the laugh out loud comedy some may be looking for, the comedy here is often subtle which actually works to the movie's benefit on repeat viewings.
High School is available on DVD and Blu-ray Tuesday, September 4th.

Blu-Ray Extras: Extras include audio commentary with executive producer/writer/director John Stalberg, Jr. and an assortment of deleted scenes.

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