Recess: School's Out
2001, G, 84 min. Directed by Chuck Sheetz. Starring Allyce Beasley, Dabney Coleman, Andrew Lawrence.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., Feb. 16, 2001
Ah, summer. A time for skipping rocks, sing-alongs with the gang, and thwarting the insidious plots of nefarious villains with plutonium turbines and electron pulse generators. So sayeth Recess: School's Out, the first (more or less) feature-length outing based on Disney's Saturday serial (part of ABC's One Saturday Morning lineup). Young fans of the cartoon will likely find little to complain about: Aside from some conspicuously costly 3-D bookending sequences and a slightly more buffed-out voice cast, the film is almost indistinguishable from your regularly scheduled programming. Ambitious it ain't, and even the pint-sized preview audience didn't get worked up above the level of polite applause. Yet there's something appealing enough about the big-screen antics of freckle-faced imp T.J. Detwiler (voiced by Andrew Lawrence) and his rascally pals from 3rd Street School, even though they're mired in a plot as messy and unsatisfying as melted M&Ms. The renegade U.S. Secretary of Education (voiced, incredibly, by James Woods) is out to destroy summer break by misaligning the moon's orbit, and wouldn't you know his headquarters would be the recently vacated 3rd Street School? Detwiler wastes no time in rounding up the gang -- surly, combat-booted Spinelli (Pamela Segall), bespectacled science geek Gretchen (Ashley Johnson), jockish Vince (Rickey D'Shon Collins), corpulent choir nerd Mikey (Jason Davis), and buzz-cut military brat Gus (Courtland Mead). But can they save summer with water balloons, silly string, dodgeball, and shaken-up cans of soda? And will dyspeptic Principal Prickly (Dabney Coleman) and vulpine schoolmarm Muriel Finster (April Winchell) pitch in to help? Like much children's entertainment, Recess: School's Out gets some mileage out of savvy little details that will fly past kids' heads, like a Patton gag, a voice role for Robert Goulet, and the unexpected appearance of “The Theme From S.W.A.T.” (It does not surprise that director Chuck Sheetz is a veteran of The Simpsons and King of the Hill.) Never mind Spinelli's proclivity for exotic insults (“goombah”) and the film's sly message about slacking in the clubhouse with your buddies instead of hurling yourself toward the hollow drudgery of adult careerdom. (The filmmakers even work in a jab at politically motivated, overzealous standardized testing.) And parents may get a chuckle out of oddball characters from the series, like King Bob (helmeted ruler of the playground), the Hustler Kid, and Upside-Down Girl. But the film never gets too far beyond disposable youth fare, best consumed like mouthfuls of sugary cereal.