Directed by: Mike Mitchell
Starring: Michael Angarano, Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston, Danielle Panabaker, Steven Strait
Take the director of Surviving Christmas, some fresh-faced kids, a premise borrowed from The Incredibles with a dash of Mean Girls, and then toss in a few cult figures (B-list stars with rabid followings) like Kurt Russell, Lynda Carter and Bruce Campbell, and you get Sky High, a pleasant enough collection of derivative predictability that's not without some minor charm of its own.
This is not a great movie by any stretch of the imagination. Not one thing in it will surprise you, and most things in it you'll see coming from a mile off. Yet it's also pretty hard to dislike -- Sky High is one of those kiddie-message pictures where the message is good, but the moral's not allowed to get too much in the way of the fun. Better still, the message is part of the story and not merely grafted on. And while the point being driven home is not especially deep, it is, after all, aimed at a young audience (not that I couldn't name a few adults who might benefit from learning it).
Michael Angarano (Lords of Dogtown) stars as Will Stronghold, the son of Steve (Kurt Russell) and Josie Stronghold (Kelly Preston), the "real life" versions of the greatest superhero team the world has ever known, The Commander and Jetstream. In themselves, the elder Strongholds are a bit of a departure for superheroes, since The Commander is unbelievably strong, but cannot fly, while Jetstream can fly, but is otherwise seemingly bereft of powers. All that ties in with the theme.
However, Will's problem is that he appears to have no powers whatsoever -- something he hides from his parents, who pack him off to their old alma mater, Sky High, a school specifically for teenage superheroes. It also turns out to be a school for sidekicks and the occasional super-villain, and it's in the former category that Will -- along with his friends, who have some powers, albeit rather minor ones -- finds himself placed.
From a thematic standpoint, this basic set-up allows for at least two possible explorations of Will's dilemma. Either he's a closet case who needs to come out, but can't bring himself to do so, or else he's facing the terror of being one of the last kids in school to go through puberty. Naturally, the film isn't daring enough to follow the first scenario beyond merely hinting at it, so by the end, it's obviously the second one being aimed for.
Nearly everything that comes from this premise is pretty easy to anticipate, but the film keeps afloat (sometimes only barely) thanks to the engaging playing of its young leads and the occasionally wry bits of humor from its cult-fave guest stars.
The humor isn't always of an especially high caliber. Most of Bruce Campbell's scenes as Coach Boomer -- he separates the heroes from the sidekicks -- are rather flat, as if it's enough that the school coach would be Evil Dead's Ashe and nothing else is required. Some of Kurt Russell's scenes aren't a lot better; his performance occasionally smacks of the "just-sign-my-check" school of acting. Lynda Carter comes off better, but when she's saddled with lines about how she can only do so much, explaining, "I'm not Wonder Woman," it's more groan-worthy than funny. Kids in the Hall alumni Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald (the latter made up to resemble David McCallum in The Sixth Finger episode of The Outer Limits) fare pretty well, as does Broken Lizard's Kevin Heffernan as the school's bus driver. (Blessedly, we are spared seeing Heffernan repeat his nude scene from Super Troopers.) When all is said and done, though, it's the kids' movie, and Anganaro, TV actress Danielle Panabaker and newcomer Steven Strait score particularly high marks in their roles.
Sky High is just savvy enough for adults to be mildly entertained by it, while the film ought to prove something more than that with younger viewers.
Rated PG for action-violence and some mild language.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke