Critics' Pick

Rock 'n' Roll High School (PG)

Comedy 93 August 24, 1979
By Jim Ridley
A pack of cartoon '50s hubcap thieves time-warped to the hedonistic '70s, the Ramones were so stunningly out of step with the glitzy mainstream that they made uncoolness cool. Their gawky diffidence spawned what's known as punk, and yet the youth-culture swamis at Roger Corman's New World Pictures were sharp enough to see that their three-chord Bowery beatdown had more in common with the prior decade's bubblegum pop than with the Class of '77's safety-pinned sloganeers. As a result, this tailor-made vehicle from 1979--a celebration of pizza, mild petting, and the iconic power of leather jackets draped over scrawny frames--is more AIP beach-party flick than rock 'n' roll swindle, a loving send-up of Corman's drive-in delinquency epics and don't-knock-the-rock B movies. Despite the end-of-the-'70s setting, the sensibility is pure Eisenhower era right down to the costumes and the PG-rated sex. Our peppy punkette heroine Riff Randell (P.J. Soles) dresses and acts like a Happy Days carhop even as she wages culture war on the Ramones' behalf against stern Miss Togar (Mary Woronov), the new principal at Vince Lombardi High ("where winning is better than losing"). The corny Frank Tashlin-esque jokes, concocted by three credited screenwriters (including Joseph McBride, now a noted film historian), miss at least as often as they connect: Some of the best ones go to Paul Bartel's tweedy music teacher and to Clint Howard as an amiable fixer who literally keeps office hours in the boys' room. But director Allan Arkush maintains a sugar-rush energy level, aided by the blitzkrieg bopping of '70s sexpot Soles and the deliciously butch villainy of former Warhol trouper Woronov. Best of all, the movie gives ample screen time to the Ramones in all their rip-kneed, splay-legged glory--a poignant sight now that Joey and Dee Dee Ramone are rock 'n' roll phantoms. To see the eternally young Joey sing "She's the One"--propped against a mike stand with graceless grace--is to realize the irrelevance of the fine line in rock between brilliant and stoopid. (Jim Ridley)
Allan Arkush P.J. Soles, Vincent Van Patten, Clint Howard, Dey Young, Mary Woronov, Paul Bartel, Dick Miller, Don Steele, Alix Elias, Loren Lester Richard Whitley, Russ Dvonch Michael Finnell New World Pictures


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