Kids in America

Free speech on school campuses is an important issue often put to the test in recent years. Students have been suspended for writing fictional stories that were violent towards students and other teachers, for wearing/distributing condoms in support of safe sex, and for wearing shirts with messages like "Barbie is a lesbian." All of these were true incidents that director Josh Stolberg threw into a blender. He mixed this up with a cross-section of high school stereotypes and set it on puree. As everybody knows, when mixing things at high speeds, some stuff floats to the top, and some sinks to the bottom. The good stuff floated to the top, and Stolberg (The Life Coach) kept all of the crap that stuck at the bottom to come up with Kids in America.

This is also the film debut for Nicole Richie. Now, why she would choose this film and this particular role is baffling. She plays a cheerleader with only a few lines. She is not on screen for long. What then, was the point? The same can be said of the film. A rag-tag group of high schoolers rebel against their oppressive principal and rally for their right of free speech. It's all so Patrick Henry, but Stolberg and co-writer Andrew Shaifer craft such a lame story that the movie as a whole suffers. It seems like they believed that the film is a lot better than it actually is. The enemy here is Principal Weller (Julie Bowen, Joe Somebody, Venus and Mars), who is campaigning for state office.

Opposing her are the students from the a/v club. Stolberg hits upon every student archetype in order to obtain the maximum inclusiveness. Holden Donovan (Gregory Smith, American Outlaws, The Patriot) is semi outsider who has a crush on hippie chick Charlotte Pratt (Stephanie Sherrin). Their classmates include the token Asian (Emy Coligado, Miss Congeniality 2), fat guy (Chris Morris), gay guy (Alex Anfanger), angry black woman (Crystal Celeste Grant, The Wood), and cheerleader (Caitlin Wachs, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Thirteen Days). Their teacher Mr. Drucker (Malik Yoba, Criminal, Vote for Me) wants them to work together on a senior project. Populating a film with mediocre actors plucked primarily from television and giving them dumb lines to read is a recipe for disaster. The traditional project is a documentary on the making of the prom, but that seems so uninteresting to them. When Weller suspends a student for wearing condoms, this prompts them to work together in order to promote freedom of speech.

This also means that, against all odds, they become a tight-knit group with the primary focus of pissing off Weller. Their chief goal is to goad her incessantly, instead of doing something productive. Stolberg presumably did this as a dramatic statement to show what students could achieve if they worked towards a goal, but the inclusion of a non-stop parade of lame jokes and preachy monologues ends any serious attempts at a message. As the plot progresses, the story becomes unwieldy and blows far out of proportion. Stolberg incorporates the real life incidents by having other students suspended for activities that seem to be within the bounds of student rights. Each additional suspension prompts the kids to bigger and bigger plans. Again, this is probably Stolberg thinking "wouldn't it be cool if..." The answer is NO. The one clever thing that happens in Kids in America is watching Grant balk when Coligado, Morris, and Anfanger want to join the traditionally black "minority club." She is uncomfortable with the idea, even though Chinese, homosexuals, and obese people can be considered minorities. If the rest of the script had even a sliver of the cleverness this one lonely piece did, it would be watchable.

Haro Rates It: Pretty Bad.
1 hour, 31 minutes, Rated PG-13 for sexual content, mature thematic elements, and language.

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