Tee-Hee, I'm Naked!

Saturday, June 10, 2006


School Spirit

(1985, 90 min.)

Starring Tom Nolan, Elizabeth Foxx, John Finnegan, Larry Linville, Danièle Arnaud, Michael Miller, Brian Mann, Leslee Bremmer, Marta Kober, David Byrd, Liz Sheridan.

Written by Geoffrey Baere.

Directed by Alan Holleb.

Okay, chew on this: an ambitious young overachiever leaves behind the girl for whom he has strong feelings in order to carry out an important task. Unfortunately tragedy strikes when his eagerness to carry out that task causes him to crash his car, an accident that proves fatal. But will otherworldly intervention give him a second chance?

Sounds like an episode of Touched by an Angel, don’t it? Guess again.

WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS CONTEMPLATION OF RELIGIOUS CONCEPTS NOT UNRELATED TO THE FILM AT HAND BUT WHICH THE FILMMAKERS THEMSELVES HAD NO INTENTION OF ADDRESSING, AND IN FACT SEEMINGLY WENT OUT OF THEIR WAY TO AVOID. (ITALICIZED OBSERVANCES BY PROFESSOR DEVOTION.)

As you can probably guess, the description above is a tad misleading. It’s all essentially accurate mind you; it’s just spun like a dead hooker on a congressman’s yacht.

Our main character, Billy Batson (Nolan), is ambitious all right, but only about getting his wick dipped, as we can see from the very first scene in which he tries to make a young woman right in the office of his college’s president. The level of humor to which the film aspires announces itself in this first scene as we discover that the name of this particular educational institution is Lavatoire College, and yet it’s worth noting that despite this early nod to toilet humor the script doesn’t much venture into that territory again. Normally I would be the first person to say that that’s a good thing, but it’s indicative of a central problem, which I’ll get back to later.

Billy is also an overachiever, but again only when it comes to humping, at least that’s what we’re led to believe when one of his friends asks him which girl he’s with at the moment and another friend asks, “Who’s left?” The girl in question, Judith Hightower (Foxx, and if you surmised from her character’s name that she’s kind of a snob, grab yourself a cracker), is the one for whom he has strong feelings, but you only get one guess as to whether those feelings originate north or south of his belt buckle. And the task he leaves her behind in the president’s office to carry out is buying a condom from a machine in the men’s room of a local bar.

During the trip back, Billy drops the condom, which he was still holding, apparently being unfamiliar with the concept of the pocket, on the floor of his car. He reaches down to get it while still driving. Bing, bang, boom, car accident. Billy wakes up in the hospital and realizes something is wrong when he finds he suddenly has the ability to both stand next to and lie on top of the operating table at the same time.

It is interesting to note that man tends to represent the soul in visual terms as an exact, if transparent, version of himself, despite the original conception of it being far more abstract, having to do with the intellectual struggle to understand the nature of the mind versus that of the body. And yet the visual cliché prevails, not unlikely as a byproduct of the human need to define things by making them as much like ourselves as possible, right down to assigning the “soul” the exact same clothes the person was wearing at the time of death. Subsequently the incorporeal Billy Batson ends up walking around in the same ass-exposing hospital gown the corporeal one was wearing when he expired on the operating table.
A brief aside: given that the soul is generally considered to be a transcendence of the physical self, the clichéd representation of it as a blurry photocopy of the body might be construed by those who truly put stock in its value as offensive. Feel free to discuss.


As Billy wonders what the hell is going on, his uncle Pinky appears next to him. His dead uncle Pinky. Pinky (Finnegan) has come to escort Billy to the afterlife, only Billy is still fixated on nailing Judith Highpants, and manages to sneak away while Pinky is leering at a passing nurse. It is, in fact, at this point that we discover an odd little fact about our deadlings. In this film they have the power to regain corporeal solidity by suspending a hand above their heads and waving it in some sort of variation on the Little Rascals Woodchuck salute. Why this is is never explained. What inspired it aside from sheer laziness is best left unexplored. It does however allow Billy to resume his quest to track Judith Highbrow down and get into her delicates. And so he runs off and does his thing existing in a state somewhere between this world and the next.

Purgatory. More a state of being than anything else, though much as we relate to the soul by assigning it physical characteristics, so is Purgatory often described as an actual physical place. Regardless, it is a kind of way station, whether figurative or literal, between life on earth and life in heaven. It is specifically for those who have been fortunate enough to be chosen to enter Heaven, but still owe a bit of ‘vig’, if you will, on their sins, allowing them to take care of their debt before high-fiving St. Peter.
What to say about purgatory? Given that it’s a doctrine of Roman Catholicism, that alone should have a lot of different people saying a lot of different things. Depending on your position and/or prejudices you might describe it as a generosity; a spiritual get-out-of-jail-free card of sorts (not completely free, of course). Or you might look at it as a dogma that declares it’s not enough to feel bad about your misdeeds while you’re alive; you need to set aside some dead time to feel guilty as well. At any rate I would guess that no theologian anywhere would be down with the idea of Purgatory as an opportunity for further ass-grabbing.

Now just because Billy got away, that doesn’t mean that he’s off the hook and so throughout all the coming merriment we get Pinky showing up now and then to tell Billy that time’s a’runnin’ out and that pretty soon they’ve got to head for the Great Beyond, as well as a couple of scenes of Pinky talking with a guy listed in the credits as The Boss (Byrd), a snooty envoy from the other side who takes little potshots at Pinky (asked why, given that he has the choice of the finest Havanas, he insists on smoking foul cheroots, Pinky replies, “I like’em,” which works just fine for me) and berates him for shirking his duties, implying that failure to deliver his nephew on time will result in a long slide down to that famous steam room purportedly located in the earth’s core.

Angels. The Heavenly Host. Gabriel. Michael. George. Metatron (yes, the one Alan Rickman played in Dogma). The Cherubim and The Seraphim. And of course the most famous angel of all – He Who Fell. Satan. The Devil. The Prince of Darkness. Lucifer Morningstar. Hmm. ‘Lucifer Morningstar.’ Now that I think of it that actually sounds kind of girly.
Now, angels are entities unto themselves, serving largely as purveyors of messages from God to man, and are not, except for certain exceptions, be-winged versions of those that have passed from this world into the next, yet owing to mythologies through the ages they have often been represented as such, particularly when it comes to that all-too-human idea of the Guardian. A guardian angel, the concept of which isn’t an article of faith anyway, is usually portrayed in the movies as the spirit of a dear departed loved one, either continuing the care they provided while alive, or, for extra added pathos, trying to make up for that which they lacked. It’s not difficult to glean why people respond to this. It’s comforting to think that those who looked over us in life would continue to do so after their deaths. Either that or most people secretly fear that God doesn’t believe in unions, benefits, overtime and such, and subsequently those on his payroll can’t possibly be trusted to do the job right, making a certain degree of nepotism necessary. After all, the afterlife is really just like one big construction site. Surely I can’t be the first person ever to say this.
(wind and tumbleweeds)
Hello? Anyone?

Since we need a villain, and this is a college flick, we get President (not Dean as it usually goes) Grimshaw (Linville, giving a far better performance than the script deserves). Predictably his under-college-age daughter Ursula (Kober) is only interested in partying and he is determined to keep her away from the campus animals. She’s especially eager to get out of the house on this particular day, because it’s Hog Day, an annual campus tradition that involves drinking, toplessness and Slip’n’Slides covered in baby oil. (And they say we Americans have no culture.) Also scheduled for that day is an event honoring a visitor, Madeleine Lavatoire, a descendant of the college’s founder who is donating a truckload of money, which El Presidente has earmarked for a new building that is somehow going to include big profits for him. (I honestly don’t remember how this is all supposed to work, but it hardly matters as it’s only here to paint him further as a villain, you know, how dare you use the money to your own ends when it could go towards improving the educational standards, as if these clowns could give a rat’s ass about their education.) Now why Grimshaw would choose to hold this event on a day when he knows that a large portion of the student body is going to be proudly wallowing in its own filth right out there in the open is a mystery. (Well, not really, but, you know.)

The benefactor is visiting from France and so Grimshaw and Judith Highsociety go to pick her up at the airport. Everyone expects her to be a geriatric about the size of an escargot, but she turns out to be a young babe (Arnaud). Upon getting back to campus Grimshaw attempts to get Madeleine through to the ceremony with minimal exposure to the debauchery, but as luck would have it, she not only meets Billy Batson, who seems to be just as dedicated to carrying out his duties as overseer of Hog Day as he is in finding a way to diddle Judith Highfalutin’, the two of them hit it off quite well, leading him to realize there may be more to life than partying and scoring on Judith Highmom. But, of course, he has a different kind of date elsewhere…

Ah, Heaven. The Eternal City. Haven of Angels. Kingdom Come. (I’ve never liked referring to it as the Pearly Gates; it sounds too much like the outside of a Country and Western singer’s mansion.) Heaven is a concept that has long been…

Nah, on second thought, to hell with it. (Pun intended.) Why bother trying to find something interesting and hopefully semi-humorous to say about Heaven when the film itself doesn’t have the stones to admit that that’s what it’s talking about? Oh, it’s hinted at, rather broadly at that (I hardly believe when Pinky tells Billy, “You made it, my boy,” that he was welcoming him to The Babysitters’ Club), but I don’t believe the actual word is used once.

The big question is exactly why Heaven is so anxious to procure Billy Batson’s soul in the first place. (Sidestepping the issue, of course, of how he qualified to begin with. That could lead us into moral debate territory and we’re already way too far out on the thin ice of Lake Ludicrous contemplating this film from a religious standpoint as it is.) We’re never told why it’s so important for Pinky to lead Billy ‘into the light’ as it were (literally now that I think of it), a question that becomes all the more moot in the end seeing as how [SPOILER SPACE IN CASE ANYONE GIVES TWO SHITS] when Billy does in fact miss the cut-off point, he’s summarily returned to his body to continue life as if nothing happened! [/SPOILER SPACE] The staggeringly blasphemous implications of this revoltin’ and ridiculous development, not to mention the possible comic ones, seem to be utterly lost on the filmmakers. But again this goes to the heart of what’s truly wrong with the film, continuing a point I made earlier.

Somewhere up above I mentioned that the move away from bathroom humor, after it’s brief flirtation with it, was, while a good thing in and of itself, symptomatic of the film’s central problem, which is that pretty much everything it does, it does half-assed. Hog Day is supposed to be the wildest day of the school year, and yet there’s very little evidence of anything particularly raucous going on. When the Deltas squared off against Dean Wormer and his goons, there was a near jihad intensity to what transpired; here the two opposing sides (Frank Burns vs. a handful of campus cretins) seem only barely aware of each other’s existence. And, yes, there is gratuitous nudity here – including two scenes involving invisibility, one predictable (Billy sneaks into the girls’ shower room), one icky (Pinky undresses a sleeping girl, all the while cooing “my dear” at her), and even an appearance by Becky “Do I Even Own A Shirt?” LeBeau as one of the Baby Oil Slip‘n’Sliders – but even that comes off as lackluster, and when a T&A comedy doesn’t even have courage of conviction when it comes to its own horniness, well, that ain’t a good sign.

St. Matthew, in Chapter 16, Verse 3, speaks of ‘Signs of the times’ and-

(SMACK!)

Shaddup! We’re done with that part.

Inevitably with bad movies I end up pondering what could have been, and had School Spirit made an attempt to be an actual religious satire, instead of skirting around the idea for the sake of some cheap, and I mean cheap, laughs, it might have had some merit. But it seems pretty certain given their reluctance to even say the word ‘heaven’ that the producers were scared of offending someone, though who they thought in its target audience was going to be offended is a mystery to me. One wishes that they had at the very least taken a page from a different gospel – that of famed crap director Jim Wynorski who once remarked that “breasts are the cheapest special effect.”

A-a-a-a-amen!

Amen indeed, Professor. Amen indeed.

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