May 20, 2006

Sky High

Sky High reminds me of the kind of programming I used to watch as a child. Everything about this movie is a cliché: I saw every plot point coming in advance and I could pretty much set my watch to the regularity with which tired overused character beats dropped. And yet, strangely enough, over the course of that hour and a half, the character beats felt instead warm and familiar, the plot had an inevitability that was charming: the movie delighted so in its clichés that it was impossible for me to turn my nose.
The thing that this movie has in common with the shows and movies of my childhood is that the movie likes its characters, roots for them, and wears its enjoyment on its sleeve. In a movie cobbled together from used story parts wrapped in a clever premise, nothing about it feels perfunctory. Sure, we all know that the girl next door is hopelessly in love with our hero. And, of course, we know that our hero couldn't be more oblivious. We know what will happen to them, and yet both characters are realized so affectionately that I couldn't help but to invest myself anyway.
Our hero's schoolyard nemesis is handled with no less understanding. The first time we see him on his own terms, as a busboy at a Chinese restaurant, we realize that he's too three-dimensional to be the villain of this story. He's actually the Misunderstood Loner, and yet his instinctual kindness elevates him above another cog in the plot's machinations.
The colourful gang of misfits that trails after our hero represents the usual motley crew of high school clichés. There's a punk chick, a nerd, and a poser. It'd be deceitful to call them fully realized, but each is given a moment to shine (sometimes literally) and each is given a beat that reveals something human underneath their genre role. The nerd is given a physical victory. The poser is, in the end, rewarded for his open pursuit of social acceptance. The punk chick is allowed to be, for a moment, feminine.
To break down the adult cast in a similar fashion would be redundant. It's no surprise for instance that Kurt Russell, the family patriarch, is the world's greatest superhero. Just think about who Lynda Carter, Bruce Campbell, Cloris Leachman, and Dave Foley are, and you're probably already half way to guessing their respective characters. Lynda Carter is basically just Wonder Woman as principal, but Campbell, Leachman, and particularly Foley turn in great character performances. Kevin Heffernan, from Super Troopers, is a stand out as Ron Wilson: Bus Driver.
Yes, we've all probably seen this movie a hundred times before. But Sky High makes a surprisingly engaging and delightful hundred and first.


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