Monday, January 29, 2018

Three O'Clock High

First feature film by director Phil Joanou, who was something of a Spielberg protege, having directed two episodes of AMAZING STORIES before this. He directed only a handful of features, none of them spectacular, though his U2 concert film, RATTLE AND HUM, has an excellent reputation. THREE O’CLOCK HIGH is something of a cult comedy for those who saw it as teenagers in the 1980s, as it has a premise most can relate to.

Casey Siemaszko (STAND BY ME) stars as Jerry Mitchell, a wimpy teenager who accidentally antagonizes tough bully Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson, later the psycho in KINDERGARTEN COP), something of a legend around school. Buddy challenges poor Jerry to a fight after school, which becomes the talk of the school in no time, spurring Jerry to scramble a way out of avoiding a beating. Skipping school doesn’t work, framing Buddy for a crime is a no go, not even hiring a big kid to beat up Buddy (certainly a nod to MY BODYGUARD) can prevent Jerry’s destiny.

Written by Richard Christian Matheson and Thomas Szollosi, veterans of Stephen J. Cannell shows like THE A-TEAM and HUNTER, and heavily rewritten by Joanou, the story is thin, but the film is somewhat amusing due to some pretty good jokes and the dizzying camerawork by Joanou and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld, a visual whiz who went on to direct the ADDAMS FAMILY and MEN IN BLACK films. They even shoot looking up from the bottom of a washing machine.

THREE O’CLOCK HIGH is one of the decade’s most visually inventive comedies, and the cast plays the heightened reality at the perfect pitch. Siemaszko is appealing, Tyson is terrifying while giving off a complex vibe, Anne Ryan is the sweet and quirky platonic girlfriend. And who can forget Charles Macauley (BLACULA) as the Dean of Discipline, Mitch Pileggi (THE X-FILES) as the overly aggressive security guard, Caitlin O’Heaney (HE KNOWS YOU’RE ALONE) as a romantic English teacher, and especially the great ham John P. Ryan (AVENGING FORCE) as the principal who delivers the film’s best line.

Neither Universal nor executive producer Spielberg, who took his name off the credits, knew what to do with THREE O’CLOCK HIGH. Look at its one-sheet if you don’t believe me. The film couldn’t even outgross clunkers like SURRENDER and SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME its opening weekend, though it is certainly better remembered today.

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