Dir: Mike Mitchell. US2005. 90mins.
Withmore than a passing nod towards Harry Potter, Spy Kids, TheIncredibles and X-Men, new superhero feature Sky High is setin a school for kids who are just coming into their paranormal powers - as ifteenage angst was not enough already.
Given its mild, frequentlycorny, humour and the near-absence of dark, scary elements, thisfamily-friendly comedy-with-a-message seems designed with the pre-teen set inmind.
Unlike most of today'ssuperhero films, Sky High did not begin life as a comic book, so it hasno built-in audience the way Harry Potter or X-Men did (thenagain, neither did Spy Kids) when it opens in the US on July 29. It hasvery little chance of outperforming Spy Kids, let alone Harry Potterand lacks the sophisticated wit that made The Incredibles a hit withadults as well as children and risks being lost in the crowded summer field.
Yet it should generategenerally positive word of mouth, thanks to an easy-to-follow story and genialperformances from an attractive cast. With no recognisable stars other thanRussell, international business looks middling. Ancillary however should provefar healthier.
Most kids think theirparents are invincible but Will Stronghold's (Angarano) folks really are.That's because Will is the only child of the world's two greatest crimefighters, The Commander (Russell) and Jetstream (Preston), who pass themselvesoff as real estate agents when not called upon to defend the universe.
Living up to the family namewon't be easy, especially as Will does not seem to have inherited any superskills at all, a fact he has managed to conceal from his parents. Itimmediately becomes clear at superhero school, however, where Will is relegatedto the rank of 'sidekick' rather than 'hero'.
While Will tries to build upthe courage to tell his parents the truth, he experiences the typical highschool traumas: snobbish cliques, romantic complications, overbearing teachers(Campbell) and arch enemies.
But Will's biggest dilemmamaterialises when his latent super powers suddenly emerge and he is thrust intothe ranks of the elite kids, who expect him to dump his former sidekickfriends.
Sky High addresses problems that will be familiar to anyadolescent, and while the life lessons offered are obvious, even belaboured attimes, they succeed as well as they do due thanks to several key performances.
One is the exceedinglylikeable Michael Angarano (Lords of Dogtown, Seabiscuit) whomakes Will thoughtful, endearing and clueless all at once. Equally good isDanielle Panabaker (HBO's Empire Falls) as Layla, Will's long-time bestfriend who would like the relationship to take a more romantic turn.
Steven Strait makes a strongimpression in his feature debut - as much for his looks as for his acting - andKurt Russell, who got his start in Disney movies 40 years ago, again seems tobe having tremendous fun.
The script has only a fewgenuinely funny or clever moments: the Commander makes his sandwiches out ofWonder Bread (an actual American brand), while Strait's troubled character isnamed Warren Peace.
But the nicest touch is thatthe script finds a way for each of the sidekicks to contribute somethingessential to the film's resolution, in which Will and the 'uncool'kids band together to save the day.
Also of note is that it alsomarks a vast improvement for director Mike Mitchell's over his last effort, theabysmal Ben Affleck holiday comedy Surviving Christmas.
Walt Disney Pictures
Buena Vista Pictures
Ann Marie Sanderlin
Bruce Robert Hill
Mary Elizabeth Winstead