According to Netflix, Mike and Jeffrey agree with each other on movies 84% of the time. In their weekly feature, The Awkward Movie Challenge, they search valiantly for that sweet 16% that results in big arguments and big laughs.
August 24th marks the 30th anniversary of Rock n’ Roll High School, the movie that is best known for introducing the world to beloved film star Clint Howard. Also, some band called the Ramones is in it. The three principal Ramones (Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee) have sadly passed on to that great Gabba Gabba in the sky, but, luckily, director Allan Arkush had the smarts to preserve the young pinheads in celluloid for future generations to enjoy. It would’ve been nice if the film he constructed around them wasn’t painfully unfunny, but I suppose we have to take what we can get.
Rock n’ Roll High School centers around the struggle between Miss Togar (Mary Woronov), principal of Vince Lombardi High, and Riff Randall (P.J. Soles), “rock n’ roller.” After a brief introductory scene in which we meet school brain Kate Rambeau (Dey Young) and football star Tom Roberts (Vincent Van Patten), we join Miss Togar in a school board meeting. While Miss Toger is informing the school board of her intentions to clean up the school, Riff hijacks the P.A. system and welcomes everyone to “Rock n’ Roll High School.” Which is really just Vince Lombardi High School with rock songs on the P.A. The crowd goes wild, because they think she’s going to play some Grand Funk Railroad.
But then she plays the Ramones, which the kids decide is okay, too. Until mean Miss Togar comes along with her two henchmen and snips the plug on the stereo system to prove her point that the students should be learning instead of dancing. To which I say: go back to Russia, you witch! Everyone knows that in America, learning is for squares.
After that, we begin the poorly sketched-out subplots that make up the bulk of the film. Tom wants to get laid, so he goes to visit Eaglebauer (Clint Howard), a strange student/man/troll who operates a thriving consulting business out of a stall in the boys’ bathroom. Eaglebauer tries to hook Tom up with Kate, but Tom wants Riff, because she oozes ten-year-old boy sex appeal.
Meanwhile, Riff ditches school to spend four days waiting in line for Ramones tickets. Also, she is a songwriter who has written a song called “Rock n’ Roll High School” that she wants the Ramones to sing. She waits. And waits. And then the Ramones show up in their Ramonesmobile to mercifully take us away from the plot with a song. Finally, Riff gets her tickets, (she buys 100!) which is big local news, because everyone in Vince Lombardi-ville or wherever they live is waiting breathlessly to find out who will be the first person to get Ramones tickets.Miss Togar sees the article in the newspaper and takes Riff and Kate’s tickets away from them. What a witch! If only Riff hadn’t given away the 98 other tickets she bought! But, them’s the breaks. Of course, being ever resilient, Riff manages to win two tickets to the show in a radio contest. Hooray! It’s back on!
From there, we head to the Ramones concert, which is basically a Ramones concert interspersed with a series of wacky hi-jinks. I haven’t mentioned the running joke about the giant mice, mostly because it made absolutely no sense to me. But here’s a picture of one anyway, just so you feel like you’re in the loop:
The Ramones play their songs, we see a weird fish-eye angle of Joey, Miss Togar’s toadies break into the show and manhandle a Ramones groupie, Tom and Kate fall in love (just like TomKat!), and Riff finally manages to get her songs to her idols. After the concert, we spend some time backstage with the Ramones, and hoo boy are they great actors! In the DVD extras, they include footage of the Ramones collecting the Academy Award for Good Movie Acting, which they totally deserved.
The day after the concert, the kids are all hopped up on rock n’ roll, and so they take over the school, and then the Ramones stop by to tell Riff how much they love her songs, and there’s a big showdown between the parents and the students, and the kids blow up the school, and the Ramones play “Rock n’ Roll High School,” and Miss Togar goes insane. Mission accomplished. The end.
Rock n’ Roll High School has always struck me as a movie that wants to be a lot more fun and subversive than it really is. For a movie called Rock n’ Roll High School, it has very little to do with high school. The campus is beautiful, the teachers we get to meet are pretty cool, and the students are all fresh-faced and well-adjusted. The main problem seems to be that they’re not allowed to just hang out all day. I mean, okay, punk rock or whatever, but the actors in this movie are about as punk rock as a Village People reunion. About as punk rock as a rollerblading class. About as punk rock as a Hostess factory. Do any of those work? Not really.And then there are the jokes. The jokes in this movie are bad. Really, really bad. Excruciatingly bad. Worse than the “punk rock” jokes I just made. They are one step above “knock knock” jokes. Example: “I only use my math book on special equations.” Ugh. Just ugh.
The Ramones are a great band. There is no disputing that. And it’s fun to see them young and, um, still alive. But this is not their finest moment. If you want to see a good, campy flick that does a much better job of embodying the spirit of punk rock and youthful rebellion, skip this turd and rent the amazing Japanese rock flick Wild Zero instead. Or for a chilling take on a very similar plot, check out the great Matt Dillon youth-in-revolt flick, Over the Edge. Either of those films, I would give 6 pizzas. Rock n’ Roll High School deserves 2: 2 for the Ramones and 0 for everything else.
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