[box cover]

Kids in America

Aspiring young activists aching for an antidote to typical teenage inertia don't have many entertainment options within the teen genre. Of the few recent teen films that even dare to broach matters of conscience in any substantial way, only 1999's Election stands out, but does so by scorchingly satirizing blind ambition, adolescent apathy, and the ultimate irrelevance of high school politics. Josh Stolberg's Kids in America (2005), on the other hand, is a rare attempt to galvanize student activism while also indulging in the tropes of teen romantic comedies, but the credit it amasses for its oddball effort doesn't pay off through its unsatisfying execution. "Everwood" heartthrob Gregory Smith stars as Holden, one of many students disgruntled by their ambitious principal's (Julie Bowen) zero-tolerance policy for handling "disruptive" behavior. Outraged by the suspension of a fellow student over a safe-sex campaign, and egged on by a hip teacher (Malik Yoba) and his agitating girlfriend Charlotte (Stephanie Sherrin), Holden interrupts the talent show with an anti-establishment diatribe and is booted out of school. With nothing left to lose, he then orchestrates an escalating series of disruptive demonstrations with the help of a socially diverse collection of peers. Not content to be pegged as a "message movie," Kids in America also half-heartedly attempts to satisfy teen comedy cravings with its cartoony depiction of some adult characters and a little broad (but PG-13) sex humor. Ambitiously, Stolberg and co-writer Andrew Shaifer lob in a few quirky touches — as Holden and Charlotte recreate famous movie kisses, starting with the rain-soaked smooching of teen romance model flick Say Anything — but for the few girls who will swoon over such overtures, most audiences may feel unmoved as the movie's heart is clearly in its politics. The subject of high school-centered freedom of speech issues is provocative, with chronicles of real, paranoid zero-tolerance abuses multiplying every school year with a few free speech challenges reaching the Supreme Court. Although Kids in America claims to be inspired by such true events, there is barely a whiff of substance or verisimilitude in its script, with the final two acts wholly composed of unconvincing fiction. Instead, the movie coats its untested idealism in a cheap candy shell, pitting its young, strident truth-tellers against a one-dimensional straw-man villain, squeezing little drama out of its self-satisfying set-ups. Even when the student activists go too far, injuring one of their own during an ill-advised arson, there are no serious consequences. The cast is attractive and promising, including rising TV star Caitlin Wachs ("Commander in Chief") amongst its student activists, and it sports a number of notable appearances in supporting roles, including Adam Arkin, Rosanna Arquette, George Wendt, and Elizabeth Perkins (and, less notably, Nicole Richie, who has about five minutes of screen time), but their talent and charm is constantly at odds with Stolberg and Shaifer's gutless and condescending approach to their subject. Universal presents Kids in America in a good anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Nearly all of the cast joins Stolberg and Shaifer for a giggly group commentary, and the disc also includes a short outtakes reel. Trailer, keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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