Paint It Black

School's out forever, dude, in the new Jack Black comedy

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DIRECTED BY Richard Linklater

STARRING Jack Black, Joan Cusack, Mike White

Opens February 6, Cert PG, 109 mins

Jack Black is American comedy’s equivalent of a smart bomb?a loud, hairy, heat-seeking missile of explosive punker attitood. In School Of Rock he plays Dewey Finn, a penniless failed rocker who impersonates his strait-laced flatmate to scam a teaching job at a snobby private school. But since music is Finn’s only passion, he’s soon defying his uptight principal (Cusack) by teaching a class of emotionally repressed kids to rock out. Do they learn self-esteem through the redemptive power of rock’n’roll? Take a guess.

Written by Mike White, who also co-stars, School Of Rock revs up a hackneyed Follow Your Dream plot with livewire comic anarchy. Black’s stoner anti-hero is the film’s salvation, a hyperactive Tasmanian Devil not unlike his sarcastic record-store clerk in High Fidelity. Director Richard Linklater wisely gives Black free reign to riff away with all the untamed mania of a young John Belushi.

It’s lightweight but likeable, despite its uncomfortable parallels with Dead Poets Society. A smarter director?John Waters, say, or Spike Jonze?might have quietly subverted the script’s sentimental message instead of playing it straight. And the notion that classic rock can transform your soul and defeat The Man is very Rolling Stone magazine circa 1967, but faintly quaint in 2004.

These minor niggles aside, however, Linklater’s latest is a full-on family comedy fired by a genuine love of rock’n’roll. Thanks to Black’s screen-filling charisma and a soundtrack that includes The Clash, the Ramones and AC/DC, most of its flaws are forgivable. In its own modest way, in fact, it rocks.

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