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Film review: High School High

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When are Hollywood marketers going to get the hint and stop showing the best parts of movies in the advertisements? "High School High" has its moments, but you've probably already seen them a million times.

On paper, the film probably sounded like a great idea - a slapstick cross between "To Sir, With Love," "Stand and Deliver" and "Dangerous Minds." However, the latest offering from producers/writers David Zucker and Robert LoCash is even more uneven than the duo's mixed bag of "Naked Gun" films.

Like Zucker's other movies, the jokes fly furiously left and right, both in the foreground and background. Unfortunately, the percentage of gag hits to misses is more like the batting average of this year's Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team rather than that of the New York Yankees.

Also, it's extremely vulgar and tasteless in places - so crude that it might be mistaken for one of the Farrelly brothers ("Dumb and Dumber," "Kingpin") movies insteasd of one of Zucker's.

Jon Lovitz ("A League of Their Own") stars as Richard Clark, an idealistic teacher who moves from a posh private school to Marion Barry High School, a tough inner-city high school. It's so tough that it has its own cemetery.

But Clark, along with Victoria Chappell (Tia Carrere), the school's sympathetic secretary, hopes to get through to the students, especially Griff McReynolds (Mekhi Phifer, from "Clockers"), a former gang tough who hopes to go to college.

He faces some stiff competition, though, from both the students' indifference and Principal Evelyn Doyle (Louise Fletcher), who would rather run the institution like a prison - including having security officers with guard dogs - than a school.

As you can imagine, the material lends itself to jokes galore, some of them quite obvious (such as the overused jabs at rap music, Mike Tyson and O.J. Simpson) and some that are more obscure (including very funny nods to the films "Rebel Without a Cause" and "The Deer Hunter" that few, if any, audiences will get).

There are some hilarious bits - like the recurring pieces about those irritating employees who sing "Happy Birthday" to customers in restaurants, and Zucker's name in the credits (he's referred to by a symbol that's explained as "The producer formerly known as David Zucker").

But those are the exceptions, and instead of skewering its source material, the film quickly bogs down into a mess of crude sex gags. Consequently, it deflates in a hurry.

To his credit, Lovitz really tries, as do Phifer and Brian Hooks, who plays a dimwitted but goodhearted student. Carrere, though, is nothing but window dressing and is given little to do besides bare her cleavage, while Fletcher looks uneasy and unmotivated.

Director Hart Bochner ("PCU") doesn't do much to help matters, either. His lethargic and unimaginative direction is as by-the-numbers as the script, which isn't even close to Zucker's best. In fact, given the track record of their recent films, maybe Zucker, his brother, Jerry, and Jim Abrahams (who, as a team, made "Airplane") should start making films together again.

"High School High" is rated PG-13, but really pushes it with a ton of vulgar sex jokes, profanity, some violence, nudity - including a shot of Lovitz's bare bottom! - sex and some drug use.