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Too cool for school

School of Rock
Starting tomorrow at area theaters
Three reels out of four

Try combining To Sir, with Love and The Bad News Bears, then add an MTV sensibility to the whole affair and you have some idea of where School of Rock is coming from.

In the new film, Jack Black plays Dewey Finn, a man who’s been holding on to his rock ‘n’ roll dreams for perhaps a bit too long. A serious monkey wrench is thrown into Dewey’s goal of winning the Battle of the Bands when he is kicked out of his own band. Badly pressed for cash, he takes a substitute teaching job at a posh private school.

At first a fish out of water, Dewey hits on a brilliant scheme: What if he trains his new charges to be a rock ‘n’ roll band? He’ll win Battle of the Bands and add some badly needed spice to these kids’ lives.

School of Rock is one of those movies that is perfect for what it is. To measure it by any other yardstick would be folly and unfair to the movie. It is basically the age-old formula: Teacher going through somewhat of a rough time meets up with a group of ragtag youngsters. He then proceeds to get youngsters in shape by sharing what he knows about life. Youngsters, in turn, teach teacher a few things about life.

Although Black is an acquired taste, nobody can accuse him of being boring. He tears through this role like a raccoon in a pile of three-day-old garbage. It’s not a pretty sight, but it is seldom dull.

I loved the way the whole rock ‘n’ roll angle was handled. As in real life, not everybody can be in the band. But Dewey makes sure to get everybody in on the project. Some kids are roadies, one is a stylist and there are even groupies. There is even a session devoted each day to rock ‘n’ roll education, when the kids are schooled on the importance of rock family trees and the influence of blues, in addition to many more "useful" tidbits.

To director Richard Linklater’s credit, he never takes things too far. For instance, although it’s clear Dewey has seen his share of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, he wisely keeps the kids focused on just the music.

School of Rock is not perfect. There are a few contrivances, and Sarah Silverman’s character of the bitchy girlfriend of Dewey’s best friend borders on sexist.

However, these shortcomings are relatively minor. Linklater, known chiefly as a director of indie films, has taken an amusing concept and made the most of it.

School of Rock is that rare bird: a minor piece of fluff that entertains, never much more than that, but never leaves you wanting for more. It’s an awful lot of fun and that’s just cool with everyone involved.

Recommended rentals

Down With Love
Available Tuesday

Perhaps one of the most underrated movies of last year, Down With Love is both a loving tribute to and a wry spoof of the sex comedies of the early 1960s associated with — but not exclusively the domain of — Rock Hudson and Doris Day. Renee Zellweger plays Barbara Novack, who has written a book, also called Down With Love, that is a manifesto for the new woman. Basically, it gives women permission to treat men like men have been treating them for centuries — very badly. Everything from the genre is dead-on, even down to the tacky decor and the respective best friends. Tony Randall, who often played the male lead’s best friend in those movies, makes a welcome cameo.

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