2003-10-17 / Columnists

MovieScope By Robert Snyder

MovieScope By Robert Snyder

'School Of Rock' - Mr. Black's Opus

In "School of Rock," wildman Jack Black has found a perfect platform to launch his full-blown comic craziness. A comedian, whose standup routine makes him appear like a frustrated rock musician, Black finally hits a homerun, playing (what else?) a frustrated rock musician. However, his salvation is the same as that of the Richard Dreyfuss character in "Mr. Holland's Opus": Forget about making it as a musician and let your knowledge and enthusiasm spill into the hearts and heads of young people.

Written by Mike White (who has a part in the picture) and directed by Richard ("Dazed and Confused") Linklater, "School of Rock" is loads of fun and also surprisingly uplifting. Black gives the performance of a lifetime, which you don't want to end. In fact, during the final credits, he jokes about having to go... knowing full well that the audience would love to see his entertaining antics last forever.

The film's basic premise is so simple that it seems  to have been done before (it wasn't). Past movies have shown rock 'n' roll at odds with established education. That happens here, except as bounced-out-of-band rocker Dewey Finn, Black works within the school system. To pay off months of back rent, he surreptitiously poses as his roommate, Ned Schneebly (White), taking a job as a long-term substitute teacher in a straight-laced private elementary school.

When confronted by his class of prim and repressed 10-year-olds, Dewey/ Ned instantly initiates a do-nothing curriculum ("There'll be no grades and recess every 15 minutes"). Before long, the goody-goody fifth graders complain that because their parents are paying an annual tuition of $15,000, they expect to be taught something. After spying on them in their classical music class, the unorthodox sub has brainstorm. He sneaks his instruments into the classroom and begins an intense, full-time program of rock 'n' roll instruction. Horrified to learn that these kids never heard of Led Zeppelin or AC/DC, he has to work fast... especially, if he wants them ready to compete in an upcoming state-wide, battle of the bands contest, where the prize is $20,000.

But, Dewey/Ned has more to worry about than teaching power chords. As does Mr. Holland or Robin Williams' teacher in "Dead Poets Society," the rocker has to liberate each student from years of brainwashing. "Real rock 'n' roll is about sticking it to the Man," he announces. When pretending-to-be prissy Principal Rosalie Mullins (Joan Cusack) makes an unexpected visit to the class, Dewey/Ned turns to the students and says, "We'll continue our lesson about the Man later."

"School of Rock" builds to a "Rocky"-like climax, with more than just the
kids being freed from the sin of uptightness. What could have been a one-note exercise in dopiness is energized by Black's non-stop comic inventiveness. In fact, he's a reminder of Robin Williams in his early manic days or the late John Belushi.

Go see "School of Rock." And bring the kids. They'll learn that that there
was life before hip-hop.

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