Sky High" must have felt like something of a homecomingfor Kurt Russell. Just like the cheap, low-standards kiddie flicks he starredin as a teenager ("The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes," "NowYou See Him, Now You Don't"), it's a cliche-dependent, high-conceptDisney cheapy that aims no higher than the unsophisticated standards ofits pre-adolescent target audience -- and somehow succeeds in spite ofitself.
One of many family-oriented superhero movies rushed intoproduction after the boffo box office of "TheIncredibles," this story revolves aroundWill Stronghold (talented Michael Angarano, "AlmostFamous"), the 15-year-old son of CommanderStronghold (Russell) and Josie Jetstream (Kelly Preston), the world's greatestsuperheroes.
Will has yet to hit superhero puberty -- Dad's colossalstrength and Mom's ability to fly elude him -- so he's instantly an outcastwhen he begins his freshman year at Sky High, a cloud-floating school forthe super-powered. Despite having legendary parents, he's stuck in a classfor sidekicks (sorry, "Hero Support"), along with other teenagerswhose gifts (for, say, glowing in the dark or commanding plant life) aren'tadequately impressive.
Beyond blessing the picture with the occasional rib-ticklingone-liner, screenwriters Robert Schooley and Mark McCorkle (veterans ofDisney Channel's "Kim Possible" cartoon) rely almost entirelyon tedious 'tween-movie staples for their plot: Will develops an instantcrush on a beautiful, popular senior (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), therebyalienating his equally cute, long-term best friend (Danielle Panabaker)who, in turn, not so secretly pines for him.
"Sky High" is also overflowing with trite (albeit"super") stereotypes: bullies from Central Casting, snooty cheerleaders,a cruel gym teacher (drive-in king Bruce Campbell), and a resident badasswith flammable arms (played by a very good young actor named Steven Strait),who turns out to be an OK kid after all.
Despite this lazy, kids-won't-know-the-difference dependenceon formula -- not to mention the movie's soundtrack of awful candy-popcovers of 1980s tunes, its maladroit dialogue (clearly written by adultswho have no idea how kids really talk), and frequent lack of adherenceto its own internal logic -- "Sky High" manages to turn its campinessand corniness to its advantage.
Director Mike Mitchell (of the insufferable "SurvivingChristmas" and DeuceBigalow: Male Gigolo) doesn't try to makethe movie cool or blithely self-aware (save the deliberately action-figureycostumes Will's parents wear to fight crime). If anything, he helps pushit further into the lame-o-sphere with comically awkward characters likeMr. Boy (Dave Foley from "Newsradio"),an over-the-hill forgotten-sidekick schoolteacher (formerly known as All-AmericanBoy) and a dorky "mad science" teacher (Kevin McDonald) witha gigantic brain.
As the inevitable villain plot kicks in (an over-the-toparch-rival has a new disguise and nefarious plans for the school and Will'sparents) -- and as Will finally develops his superpowers -- Mitchell bringsall the movie's inanity into a crescendo of kiddie-flick charisma designedspecifically and exclusively to delight children. But somewhere "SkyHigh" crosses into a realm of nostalgia that will remind parents ofthe cheap, dumb, slightly behind-the-times movies they didn't know enoughto dislike back when they were young.
This isn't to say "Sky High" is a good movie-- or even a so-bad-it's-good movie. "Sky High" is somethingmore tenuous: It's persistently dumb in an endearingly sincere way. It'sa movie that is entertaining for the very reason that it never tries tobe genuinely good.