The purpose of “Kids in America” is to rile up the teen market and lead them to consider revolting against their oppressors. It’s a fine idea, but when the marketing spends most of its time screaming that Nicole Ritchie has a role in the film, it’s easy to see that “America” might not feature the most challenging material. Atrociously written, “America” has good ideas and intentions, but no idea how to express them in anything but a cartoon fashion.Inside Booker High School, the students are under attack from their principal (Julie Bowen). Starting out with one student's suspension for wearing condoms on her shirt to promote safe sex, the class soon finds themselves losing many of their basic rights to an election year administration who demand compliance. For the brooding Holden (Gregory Smith, "Everwood"), this means war, and with the help of his fellow filmmaking classmates, along with a sympathetic teacher (Malik Yoba), they set out to raise havoc in the school, making larger points about the death of freedom in America along the way.
"Where's Kim Wilde when you need her!"
A kissing cousin to the 1990 teenage muckraking classic, "Pump Up the Volume," "Kids in America" endeavors to rile up the youth of land and challenge them to expose the hypocrisy facing them daily. It's a sweet sentiment, and "Kids" means well, but did the production have to approach the topic with kindergarten-level filmmaking? Subtlety is an approach not on the "Kids" agenda. Director Josh Stolberg and writer Andrew Shaifer have elected to make a film that abuses stereotypes to make a bigger point about injustice, but they end up looking idiotic. With the brooding loner, the shrill hippie-chick, the angry African-American, the unwashed, always-thinks-about-food obese gamer, the angry Chinese-American, the blonde and beautiful cheerleader, and the only-in-the-movies flamboyantly homosexual drama student (who, rather implausibly, adores Wham and references "Postcards from the Edge"), the filmmakers have written themselves into a corner. Struggling to create a universal depiction of high school where audiences could potentially relate to somebody on screen, the production instead looks pinched and grabby, with the roles resembling a bad community theater project instead of a feature film. Stolberg loves these stereotypes, and he beats them into the ground for the duration of the film. The intentions are clear, but the realization is pathetic.
Thankfully, "Kids" has bigger ideas for itself than just parading stereotypes around for attention. The film is about empowering youth, and though the screenplay has all the refinement of a sledgehammer, the ideas are crystal clear. Instilling a sense of political rowdiness in teenagers is an admirable mission, and basing the screenplay on actual events assists "Kids" in achieving the feeling of absurdity as the students are slowly being relived of their rights by the principal. It's very easy to admire the ideas that Stolberg and Shaifer has written into their film, yet "Kids" continually undermines itself with misused "favor" cameos (Elizabeth Perkins, Rosanna Arquette, Kim Coles, and "Volume" star Samantha Mathis), and wildly hammy performances (especially from Julie Bowen).
Also of note in the film is a mid-movie sequence where two characters discuss the greatest movie kisses they've seen, and attempt to recreate them. Utilizing no real purpose other than for Stolberg to pay respect to his film idols, we see images from "Say Anything," "Sixteen Candles," and "Fast Time at Ridgemont High" shamelessly recycled here. Maybe this scene explains why teen cinema has been such a bore lately.Leaving the expression of 17 year-olds to the care of 35 year-old men (or even older studio executives) is a good pathway to mediocrity, and a sure promise of insufferable, bogus screenwriting.
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originally posted: 10/23/05 16:33:24