The new teacher's name is Clark. In a blaze of idealism, he left his gig at one of the Brahmin bastions of WASP private education to teach at a ramshackle inner city hellhole called Marion Barry high. In his first class on his first day, a teen siren named Natalie saunters in with a low-cut blouse that would fit right in on "Baywatch."
"Why are you late?" asks Mr. Clark. "Because the bell rang before I got here," she answers with incontestable Cartesian logic. "Well, Natalie," chirps Mr. Clark, "tell us something about yourself." OK, says Natalie "for the last month, I've had a yeast infection."
Well maybe then something more intellectual or spiritual would be appropriate for the classroom, suggests Mr. Clark. OK, says ever-cooperative Natalie, why don't I recite one of my poems? She does, and it's a dank, dark Gothic piece, full of horribly depressing syntax and imagery. She explains that she had to stop writing because she couldn't find a rhyme for "festering drippage."
Me? I'm just about on the floor by now. I'm certainly not proud of that, but there you have it. It's a position I was in fairly often at "High School High," a reprehensibly cheap, jokey spoof on the Noble White Man Comes to Inner City School genre -- you know, all the way from "Blackboard Jungle" and "Rebel Without a Cause" to "Dangerous Minds," the recent feminized version.
Let's cheerfully stipulate here that it is absolutely unsuitable viewing for anyone cursed with immutable taste, refinement and aesthetic decency. For the rest of us, it is some of the funniest cinematic junk since the "Naked Gun" movies, whose parentage it shares in part. (Co-writers David Zucker and Pat Proft, for instance, who have been at this low-level spoofery for a long time -- in Zucker's case, in fact, since "Airplane.")
Jon Lovitz stars as Mr. Clark, the ultra yutz who comes to Barry High and, by God, transforms the joint into a veritable fern bar in no time at all. There is a ripple effect all through the neighborhood. Soon strippers at local topless bars are doing "Macbeth."
Now Lovitz, let's admit, is not destined for major Hollywood stardom. He looks like the Catskills version of the Pillsbury Doughboy and, as far as anyone has ever been able to discern, has only one real part to play -- that of the ultimate ultra-yutz (those with some Yiddish will know that the opening consonant should be different but has been changed to "yutz" for dubious reasons of taste.) In his goofy, skit comic way, no one plays a mega-yutz better than Lovitz.
"High School High" gives Lovitz a full two-hour chance to revel in his quintessentially yutzy Lovitzness. There's a seduction gag here that involves a cat that, well, is one for the anthologies.
So what else happens at Marion Barry High? Well, before the school year begins, they give out free condoms with a sheet of usage instructions. The trouble is they staple them together. The faculty members serve each other martinis in the faculty lounge because it's the only thing that gets them through the day. And at school dances, the punch is so spiked that kids take one sip and pass out cold.
It's total junk. That's for sure. Still, I wouldn't have missed it for the world.
High School High
Rating:*** 1/2 Jon Lovitz in cheap, jokey spoof of inner city school movies. With Tia Carrere. Written by David Zucker, Robert LoCash and Pat Proft. Directed by Hart Bochner. Rated R, now playing at area theaters.