School of Rock

The new Jack Black film School of Rock is sure to split audiences into two distinct groups. Fans of Blacks manic style will find plenty of laughs from a film with essentially minimal material, while movie goers who didnt like Black in his previous films, High Fidelity and Orange County, will see this as a useless attempt at creating a new comedy star.Put me in the group with the former, because School of Rock definitely serves as the breakout film Black fans have been waiting for since he burst on the scene three years ago.Black plays Dewey Finn, a sad-sack, die-hard rocker who very passionately worships the music he plays. As the film opens, the band he helped form kicks him out right before a big battle of the bands, and it looks as if things couldnt get any worse.They do.Finns roommate Ned (Mike White, who also served as the films screenwriter) is persuaded by his girlfriend to encourage Finn to pay the back rent he owes or move out.Penniless, Finn is unsure how hes going to pay the rent. When a private school calls the house asking Ned to substitute teach a fourth-grade class, Finn takes the job for him. At first, Finn sees this as an easy way to pay his bills, but eventually he gets the idea to use the kids as musicians in his new rock band and try to win the battle of the bands concert.Whites screenplay pretty much follows the standard formula from there. You get the typical scenes where the children and the teacher come to respect each other, the typical parent who doesnt want to let his child do what he truly enjoys, the predictable scene in which Finn has to come clean at the most inopportune time. It all builds to the standard musical finale, in which we discover that the band is actually pretty good.Yes, its formula, but it works because Black is so perfect for the role. From the opening scene, Black gives Finn a lovable loser persona that clicks with the audience. You like this guy and respect the passion he has for rock n roll music.Films with kids usually tend to border on annoying, but the child cast is just as agreeable as Black. They dont come off as annoying like the Jerry Maguire kid sort of way; but are instead drawn out as fairly three-dimensional characters. Miranda Cosgrove really stands out as the grade-grubbing student who becomes the bands manager. Theres also some nice work from the supporting adult characters too, especially Joan Cusack as the schools principal.School of Rock was directed by Richard Linklater, whose first film, Slacker, essentially followed one character to another without a linear plot. That experience with Slacker works here, because there is an agreeable pacing that never makes the material seemed tired. In the end, School of Rock works despite its flaws. Its a film that proves when you get a lot of talented people together, you can overcome practically anything including a familiar script. Sportswriter/movie reviewer Micheal Compton can be reached for comment or to trade killer air-guitar riffs by e-mailing mcompton@