[Screen It]

(2005) (Michael Angarano, Kurt Russell) (PG)

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Action/Adventure: The son of two superhero parents begins a special high school where he's assigned to the "loser" sidekick class, but soon learns that he has superpowers, which he uses to vanquish super-villains, and save the school and his parents.
Will Stronghold (MICHAEL ANGARANO) is the son of famous superheroes Commander Stronghold (KURT RUSSELL) and Josie Jetstream (KELLY PRESTON). They expect him to carry on their tradition, and he's been afraid to tell them he has no superpowers, pretending he lifts heavy weights in his bedroom. On the first day of high school, his secret is revealed, and Coach Boomer (BRUCE CAMPBELL) assigns Will to the "hero support" class, taught by Mr. Boy (DAVE FOLEY) and considered second rate compared to the heroes' class. Here he meets and bonds with fellow sidekicks: Ethan (DEE JAY DANIELS) who can turn into a puddle of goop, Zach (NICHOLAS BRAUN) who can glow, and Magenta (KELLY VITZ) who can shape-shift into a guinea pig.

Though he is supported by best friend and next door neighbor Layla (DANIELLE PANABAKER), as well as his fellow sidekicks, Will feels like a failure, until Student Body President Gwen (MARY ELIZABETH WINSTEAD) takes an interest in him. She's especially enchanted when Will gets into a fight with sullen fire-starter Warren Peace (STEVEN STRAIT), son of a hero mother and a villain father (who was caught by Commander Stronghold); at this moment, Will is so upset that his superpowers emerge.

He uses his super-strength to beat Warren and two other bullies, Lash (JAKE SANDVIG) and Speed (WILL HARRIS). Though Principal Powers (LYNDA CARTER) puts Will and Warren in detention and Josie worries that he's "nearly destroyed the cafeteria," Commander Stronghold is thrilled that his son has finally come into his own.

Now Will has to make choices, between his sidekick friends and the Gwen's fashionable crowd. He learns the hard way that superficial attractions and popularity do not make for lasting friendships or loyalties. At the same time, super-villains are plotting to take over the school at the Homecoming Dance. The big showdown involves a ray gun that zaps its targets into babies, and Will must use his superpowers for good, and work together with the sidekicks, in order to win the final battle and fulfill his father's dream that he will "save the world."

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
High school sucks, especially when the bullies can toss you from wall to wall or throw fireballs. This is the harsh lesson Will (Michael Angarano) learns on his first day at the special school for super-powered kids. Not only is he worried that his lack of powers will make him stand out (the last thing you want to do as a freshman), but he also arrives burdened with a well-known pedigree. His parents are the most super of superheroes, Commander Stronghold (Kurt Russell, of the perfectly cleft chin) and Josie Jetstream (Kelly Preston), who split their time between selling suburban real estate (their cover) and defeating villains and saving the world. Powerless Will sighs, "I'm supposed to save the world one day."

Brightly colored and extra perky, "Sky High" makes good fun of the usual high school drama. On his first day, dad stops by Will's bedroom to wish him well, whereupon the boy pretends he's lifting heavy barbells, "trying to get in a few sets before school." The day only gets worse. On the school bus, he and his best friend Layla (Danielle Panabaker) meet up with a couple of bullies -- elastic-limbed Lash (Jake Sandvig) and very fast Speed (Will Harris) -- who make it their mission to pick on Will and anyone associated with him. The bus itself proceeds to crash through a Road Closed sign and fly through the air (such that all the freshmen riders scream in terror) in order to reach Sky High, which hovers above the earth, "in constant motion as a precaution against those who might have nefarious plans."

At school, all the kids are leaping and flying and shooting laser beams from their eyes, all showing off their special powers (one girl zaps a fresh boy with her freeze ray, leaving him iced solid on the front lawn for the rest the movie, occasionally tap-tapped by passersby). Will tries to keep a low profile, but soon learns from Principal Powers (Lynda Carter) that all freshmen will be assigned to classes according to their super abilities or lack thereof. Those who can fly, become a giant rock, or set themselves on fire are deemed heroes, while those, like Will, who show no skills or feeble ones are set on the "loser track," or as their teacher Mr. Boy (Dave Foley) likes to call it, "hero support."

The man deciding where everyone goes, Coach Boomer (big-chested Bruce Campbell), has a bit of a mean streak ("My word is law, my judgment is final! Are we clear?"). He humiliates each student in turn, making him or her demonstrate his or her powers before he roars, "hero!" or "sidekick!" Though Layla protests ("To participate in this test supports a flawed system," she says, "The hero/sidekick dichotomy"), she and Will are sent to the sidekicks class. On top of this, Will must also contend with sullen, leather-jacketed fire-starter Warren Peace (Steven Strait) who holds a grudge against Will because Commander Stronghold defeated his super-villain father ("If you ever cross me again," he growls at Will, "I'll roast you alive.")

One evening after school, Will invites his new classmates over for study group. They include Layla, who has an awesome power over nature (trees and thunderstorms), but won't reveal them in school; Zach (Nicholas Braun), who glows; Ethan (Dee Jay Daniels), who turns into a puddle of goop (perhaps appropriately, as he is Lash's favorite target, repeatedly getting his head dunked in the toilet); and Magenta (Kelly Vitz), who shape shifts into a guinea pig. (No surprise, all of these funky powers will come into play in the big showdown at film's end.)

When Commander Stronghold comes home, Will must explain why he's hanging out with these losers ("Good for you, son, a kid of your stature hanging around with a bunch of sidekicks"), meaning he must then confess his own lack of powers to his dad -- in the kitchen. Dad reacts badly, slamming the counter and breaking his cell phone (a drawer full of replacement phones suggests that he has had similar fits before).

This cartoonish coming out story soon gives way to a cartoonish straightening out story, as Will gains his powers after all (fighting the bullies and, as his mother scolds him later, "nearly destroying the cafeteria"). At this point, he also gains the attention of the beautiful and observably scheming Student Body President Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). Now a hero and not a little enchanted by Gwen's in-crowd cache, Will starts forgetting his sidekick buddies, including true blue, sweet, and principled Layla (so pure of heart that she won't eat meat because, she says, "My mom can communicate with animals. They don't like being eaten").

Commander Stronghold is elated at Will's sudden emergence into "normality" (he imagines the super-family's future glory, "the three of us fighting crime together, side by side by side"). But the son isn't so sure about his imminent stardom. Besides, he's in a Disney movie, which means he still has important lessons to learn, like the obvious value of loyalty to the little guys, the real appeal of granola girl Layla, and the inevitable treachery of Gwen.

To get from here to there, this initially sprightly film grinds its gears a bit, though Warren Peace maintains a surprisingly light touch, despite being the designated surly boy, haplessly resisting the call to join the good guys. When called on to read Layla's fortune at the Chinese restaurant where Will, nerdily distracted by the Student Body President, has forgotten to meet her, Warren brings just the right mix of dread and delight: "To let true love remain unspoken is the quickest way to a heavy heart." Angry son of a super-villain, he oughta know. "Sky High" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 25, 2005 / Posted July 29, 2005

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