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Rebel High

1987, Starring Kenny Robinson, Wayne Flemming, Ralph Millman, David L. McCallum, Stu Trivax, Carol Shamy, Shirley Merovitz, Tim Cahill, Harvey Berger, Freddie James, Winston Spear, Gordon Culley. Directed by Harry Jakobs (Academy).

"This is a story about a high school. It isn't much of a story, but then, this isn't much of a high school. It's full of beer drinkers, dope smokers, hooky players, liars and assholes...and those are just the teachers."Prologue to Rebel High.

Canada is often lauded as a breeding ground for top-notch comedy talent. From internationally popular comedians like Mike Myers and Martin Short to troupes like The Kids in the Hall and Toronto's Second City franchise, it is Canadians who have kept the comedic lifeblood of Hollywood flowing over the years with well-timed injections of our distinctly satirical humour. But while our brightest and funniest stars regularly achieve great success south of the border, we have never quite figured out how to properly capture their gifts in homegrown film productions, which frequently lack the production values to properly showcase their abilities. Case in point: Rebel High. This screwball comedy about the worst high school ever features a handful of Canadian stand-up comics and character actors, but they're mired in the squalid sludge of this ridiculously amateurish film, spouting a barrage of intentionally asinine, tacky jokes.

When Edwin Swimper (Harvey Berger) takes over as principal on the first day of classes at Rebel High, he quickly finds himself in over his head. The inside of the school resembles an apocalyptic combat zone--heavy firepower in the student lockers, protective army gear on the cowering teachers, and intermittent fires in the hallways. The tough-as-nails students literally demolish the building--and each other--between classes. Believing that all kids rebel against authority, Swimper abolishes the rulebook in a desperate attempt to restore order, but this cagey strategy backfires as slick operator Calvin Hampster (Kenny Robinson) and the rest of the students drop their math and science courses and sign up for archery to hone their hallway combat skills.

Not surprisingly, Swimper quits after one day, forcing vice principal Norman Relic (Wayne Flemming) to beg the Mafia-affiliated school board for a replacement. Board head Mr. Wilcox (David McCallum) is keen to turn Rebel High into a parking lot, but he decides to give the school one last chance anyways--Red G. Peckham (Stu Trivax), a principal just back from Africa, is unaware of Rebel High's reputation, and Wilcox promises not to tear down the school if they can keep Peckham on the job and pass inspection in a few days. Refusing to be intimidated by the punk students, Peckham gets to work immediately, even convincing Calvin and his flunkies Willie (Winston Spear) and Leroy (Freddie James) to attend class, where he delivers a strangely out-of-place lecture about Jesus.

Just when it seems like things are improving, however, Peckham is caught in the deadly cross-fire of a shootout between Calvin and school bully Bruno Bataglia (Pierre Larocque). Relic is forced to take over as acting principal, and stashes Peckham's body just as undercover cop Sergeant Major (Sean Goldwater, the wino who drinks Larry Csonka's pee in Snake Eater) shows up in a trenchcoat and phony beard, with his dog Thor. Oddly enough, Relic finds Peckham alive and well in a secret hot tub room and bar Calvin has installed in the boy's bathroom. Relieved, but still not out of the woods yet, Relic cuts a deal with Calvin to help him turn Rebel High into a model school--just minutes before the school inspectors--including the vengeful Swimper--arrive.

Like Goofballs, Rebel High is a film loosely based around Toronto's insurgent Yuk Yuk's comedy club scene. The ensemble cast, headed up more or less by the Herculean overacting of Wayne Flemming (Meatballs 3 and Goofballs), also features cartoonish performances by Kenny Robinson, Winston Spear, Freddie James, and Stu Trivaxa virtual who's who of Canadian stand-up in the late 1980s. But unfortunately, also like Goofballs, Rebel High fails to capitalize on any of this talent, and can only be written off as an unmitigated failure with a barely scripted story, juvenile gags and a palpable cheapness.

In the opening credits, Rebel High is billed as a "A Harry Jakobs Comic Book," and that's actually a pretty apt description. Like Ferris Bueller's Day Off warped by the mutant no-brow sensibilities of the trashiest Class of Nuke 'Em High sequel, this film grossly exaggerates the petty foibles of high school life to a larger-than-life Zucker brother's parade of sight gags. Now sometimes, this style of ridiculous adolescent fantasy works--I've reviewed a half-dozen films like Rebel High for the site, and occasionally, a film like Oddballs or Recruits will succeed in its carefully scripted anarchy with a few poignant gags, touches of the surreal, or even just the ability to exude a sense of fun and craziness. Rebel High contains none of these saving graces, and if the participants had any fun at all making this film, little of their enthusiasm is translated to the viewer.

Made just before the final collapse of the tax shelters, and filmed almost exclusively in a dilapidated school in Montreal that no doubt was about to be torn down, Rebel High makes no reference to its Canadian location. Although there is a superficial similarity to the more over-the-top Canadian sex comedies like Screwballs that might tip off viewers, it's only through the recognizable faces of many of the actors involved that this film can truly be identified as Canadian. However, of those former Yuk Yuk's stars, Kenny Robinson is the only one who remains in the public eye, as the host of After Hours with Kenny Robinson on the Comedy Network.

Shamelessly pandering to the young, teenage video renter while mixing in enough archaic jokes to thoroughly confuse them, Rebel High really has no audience in mind, which by default puts it in the sole realm of the Canadian B-Film fan. If creating the "great Canadian comedy film" is a natural step needed to help launch our film industry to the next level, then it's embarrassing, substandard entries like Rebel High that make it that much more difficult.

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