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General Education

A scene from Tom Morris’s General Education. [Photo: PHP Films]

General Education .5 out of 4

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Too derivative to be amusing and too earnest to be parodic, General Education assumes the form of countless other teen comedies minus any wit or drama. Tom Morris's film revolves around Levi Collins (Chris Sheffield), a high school senior introduced nabbing a college tennis scholarship from a gay, ascot-wearing administrator even though his on-court skills are obviously amateurish at best. This accomplishment greatly pleases Levi's demanding father (Larry Miller) and unhappy mother (Janeane Garofalo), but is jeopardized when he fails science and can't graduate. Forced to take summer school in secret while also preparing for the tennis tournament that will secure his higher education admission, Levi finds himself in class with hard-ass Ms. Bradford (Elaine Hendrix)—whom he labels a "dyke"—and sexy classmate Katie (Maiara Walsh), all while sparring with arrogant prick Chad (Tom Maden). It's a setup that Morris wants to cast as a cross between Summer School and Van Wilder, but from the outset, his script has a flatness that turns every plot point into a lesson in illogicality (e.g. to attend school, Levi tells his parents that he has a summer job, yet they never even bother to ask what it is), as well as renders his few stabs at wackiness, like Levi's friends going to Mexico to buy fireworks, hopelessly dull.

Even more than tossed-off supporting performances from Miller and Garofalo, the latter of whom is fortunate to have the role of a mother who's ignored by both her children and the film itself, the most glaring issue preventing General Education from generating humorous momentum is that handsome-smart-witty-slacker Levi is a wan teenage approximation of Van Wilder, one whose niceness and intelligence are at odds with his screw-up behavior, and whose blatant blandness negates the idea that he's charismatic and cool. Levi has a 13-year-old African-American sidekick named Charles (Skylan Brooks) who comes off like a half-formed joke, and a friend named Shady Nick (Seth Cassell) who barely does anything shady, and in fact helps Levi with his summer school final project, a bio-fuel filter system for his car that proves as easy to design and implement as it is for Levi to eventually woo Katie. The fact that this doofus-makes-good story is pure fantasy is to be expected; less acceptable is that the film employs narrative clichés, including Levi's need to stand up to his demanding daddy and forge his own path in life, with such lethargy that one senses it barely buys the slop it's selling.

Director(s): Tom Morris Screenwriter(s): Tom Morris, Elliot Feld, Jaz Kalkat Cast: Chris Sheffield, Maiara Walsh, Larry Miller, Janeane Garofalo, Elaine Hendrix, Tom Maden, Seth Cassell, Skylan Brooks Distributor: PHP Films and Well Go USA Runtime: 85 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2012

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