Naysayers be damned, Jamie Kennedy (2005's "Son of the Mask
") is an affable performer who doesn't get enough credit for the eager-to-please way he throws himself into his quirky roles. Maybe the problem is the films themselves. They're crap, plain and simple, and "Kickin' It Old Skool" doesn't exactly contradict such a statement. A slap-dash amalgamation of "13 Going on 30
" and "Breakin'," first-time director Harvey Glazer and screenwriters Trace Slobotkin, Josh Siegal and Dylan Morgan have created a supremely moronic comedy that miscalculates its audience and would be less than a half-hour in length were it not for a disturbing preoccupation with racial and ethnic stereotyping.
12-year-old Justin Schumacher (Alexander Calvert) is an average kid of the '80s, trading Garbage Pail Kids collectibles with his friends, emulating the fashions of professional breakdancer, and with a crush on classmate Jennifer Stone (Alexia Fast). After Jenn shoots down the advances of spiteful "cool kid" Kip (Taylor Beaumont) and makes it known that she has eyes for him as well, a freak accident occursduring a school talent competition, Justin flips himself off the stage, lands on his head, and goes into a coma.
Zap forward twenty years, a 32-year-old Justin (Jamie Kennedy) finally wakes just as harried parents Marty (Christopher McDonald) and Sylvia (Debra Jo Rupp) are about to pull the plug on his life support. Still a 12-year-old stuck back in 1986 at heart, Justin must find his way in a world that has continued to change and evolve without him. When he overhears that his mom and dad are financially strapped from all the medical bills and are about to lose their house as a result, Justin pieces back together his old circle of friends, Darnell (Miguel A. Nunez Jr.), Aki (Bobby Lee) and Hector (Aris Alvarado), and convinces them to compete with him in a dance contest offering a grand prize of $100,000. As they start their training, Justin is also faced with a grown and gorgeous Jenn (Maria Menounos) walking back into his life. She, of course, happens to be engaged to Kip (Michael Rosenbaum), as arrogant as an adult as he was as a preteen.
Who is the audience for "Kickin' It Old Skool?" The most likely target demographic is teenage boys, but the constant gags and references to the 1980s, some of them fairly obscure as it is, will go straight over the heads of viewers not even alive during that decade. The average 15-year-old will be totally lost. As for the age range most able to appreciate the humorroughly mid-twenties to thirtysomethingsthe film will prove far too juvenile for the majority of them. For this 25-year-old reviewer, there are a few slyly funny moments that sneak inAlan Ruck plays a doctor with a history not unlike the one of his character of Cameron Frye in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off;" the obligatory David Hasselhoff cameo is more fun than it should be; even a very subtle "Full House" nod sneaks inbut they are but specks of gold in a sea of lemons. So frequent are embarrassing scenes that just lay there, the punchline either not arriving or obliterating on impact, that when one hits the bull's-eye it catches the viewer off-guard.
As strictly a fish-out-of-water comedy, "Kickin' It Old Skool" would be disposable but diverting. For example, what person old enough to remember the early days of MTV wouldn't laugh when Justin wakes up in 2006 and is confused by a station that has replaced music with what he describes as "teenage girls talking and crying?" So far, so good, but it's all downhill from here. The obsessive use of caricatures and stereotypes to make up the other half of the jokes reveal a distinct lack of inspiration on the screenplay level; they are not incorporated as a means to reveal anything about human nature or society, as they so intelligently were in 2006's "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan
," but are there just to laugh and point the finger at what is supposedly the norm for each racial group and sexual orientation. The only black woman on display, Darnell's girlfriend Roxanne (Vivica A. Fox), is characterized as a cornrows-wearin', trash-talkin', money-grubbin', baby-makin' machine. The only Asian of significance, Aki, is forced within a minute of first arriving onscreen to recite the "booty trap" line from "The Goonies" and impersonate Long Duck Dong from "Sixteen Candles." Throw in fat jokes and Jew stabs, and you have a movie that, in essence, boils down to two hours of bullying and name-calling.
Jamie Kennedy is wide-eyed and sweet as Justin, but does tend to overreach by portraying what appears to be a mentally-disabled person rather than a kid in an adult's body. In her major acting debut, Maria Menounos (formerly an "Entertainment Tonight" correspondent) is dreadful as object of Justin's affections Jennifer. She's pleasing to the eye, but has the emoting capacity of a Barbie doll and hits a wall whenever she must sell a line of dialogue. It's not all Menounos' fault, though. Her character has been written as such a dim bulb that it becomes infuriating, and her motivations are skewed. It is never believable that a sweet gal like herself would be involved with the borderline-sociopathic Kip, who treats her and everyone else like dirt. Michael Rosenbaum (2002's "Sorority Boys
") plays this bad-guy boyfriend part with an exaggerated lack of redeeming qualities; throw some horns on the sides of his head and he could pass for Lucifer.
"Kickin' It Old Skool" revolves around breakdancing, but has barely been mentioned so far as it pertains to the story. That's because it is an utter bore, and the climax set at the dancing competition drags on so long one wonders if the film wasn't originally meant to be a miniseries event. Before this point, the picture isn't a painful one to watch, only stupid, condescending and outdated. Getting all the way to the end credits is quite another story. Jamie Kennedy has raw talent and comedic flair, but he's going to need more than that if he continues with stinkers like "Kickin' It Old Skool" and still hopes to be working five years from now.