Black…It’s like space without the stars

Some viewers have complained that the film “Dead Poets Society” has an utter lack of serious rocking out. “Sure, it taught me to believe in myself,” some viewers might say. “But where’s the gut-wrenching drum solo?” Well, the wait is over. Jack Black (“High Fidelity”) is about to answer your prayers in his newest movie, “School of Rock.”

Black plays Dewey Finn, a washed out guitarist kicked out of his own band and hurting for rent money. He steals his roommate’s identity in order to take a job as a substitute fifth grade teacher at a prestigious prep school. Determined to show up his old band-mates by winning a local “battle of the bands” contest, Dewey puts together a band comprised of his classically trained (but hopeless uptight) students and teaches them the value of “rocking out.”

This really shouldn’t have worked. At all. It should have burst into flames at the first test screening, much like last year’s Kevin Kline-fueled “Dead Poets Society” rip-off “The Emperor’s Club.” Face it, some movies can’t be remade – Robin Williams has been trying and failing for years, and he was in the original.

But, somehow, through the combined majestic talent of screenwriter Mike White (“The Good Girl”) and director Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused”), the movie manages to be jaw-droppingly average. If anyone else had made this movie, it would have been dominated by celebrations of the human spirit and nauseating feel-good moments. But imagine Jack Black teaching 10-year-old kids that deep down they’re special people with wonderful imaginations who can do anything they set their minds to. It would be oddly touching, in a Michael Jackson sort of way.

Instead the film is primarily about rock music. Black alternates between waxing stoner-philosophic and performing some fairly amusing bits of physical comedy. No lame jokes, no hugging. The kids are all thoroughly watchable – not a snot-nosed snob in the bunch – and they play their own instruments, an aspect of the film that cannot be praised enough. It’s impossible to watch movie and not be amazed at how skilled these children are.

Even so, the direction is depressingly mainstream. Linklater made a name for himself with small indie films such as “Suburbia” and “Waking Life,” full of quirky care and attention. There’s none of that here. As dull as the camera work is, however, the script and the soundtrack and are definitely the product of Linklater’s mind. The soundtrack is exceptional and, arguably, better than the movie. And that’s really the problem with “School of Rock” – when rock comes to roll, the music is all you really need.

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