Outright dismissal is the gut reaction that many will have upon first glance at Jamie Kennedy’s new would-be star vehicle, and while it would be a lie to suggest that the thought hadn’t crossed my mind more than a few (dozen) times during its 107 minutes, to completely berate a film so eager to please—albeit on a very low platform of standards—feels not unlike, in the words of Roger Ebert, “kicking a dog for not knowing Calculus.” Something of a fusion of Kennedy’s trademark fish-out-of-water hijinks and Napoleon Dynamite‘s incessant, detached bumblefuckery, Kickin’ It Old Skool is such an embarrassment unto itself that any remotely offensive elements are rendered moot in the process (it elicited a laugh from this critic only once, when a character points out that Kennedy’s comparison of his life to frozen shit “is tenuous at best”); like its main character, the movie invites less in the way of anger than it does pity.
Keeping things in perspective, however, doesn’t negate the fact that this is a pretty crappy movie, yet its efforts to engage with its main character’s identity crisis—as rushed, sloppy, unfunny, and stupid as they constantly are—are in many ways quite endearing. Justin Schumacher (Kennedy) is a breakdance-obsessed youth who suffers a coma-inducing injury during a middle-school talent show contest. Miraculously awakened 20 years later in 2006 (when a nearby radio plays the same song he knocked himself out to, Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit”), he finds himself an ‘80s relic struggling to catch up emotionally and culturally, having missed everything from puberty to high school, the digital age, and Gremlins 2.
Whereas Jon Heder’s now infamous Napoleon Dynamite nitwit exists solely to gather hateful scorn from the audience’s inner bully, Kennedy’s Justin is just as hopeless an individual on all accounts, but instead serves as a humanistic outlet for impossible dreams and undeserved hardships. Plot points are undercooked at best, characters themselves give caricatures a good name in the subtlety department, and the ‘80s shout-out visual gags are downright groan-worthy (look for Back to the Future‘s flux capacitor in Justin’s hospital room), yet a distinctly humanistic current underscores the scattershot proceedings. Like Norbit, Kickin It Old Skool is a film unable to provide its charmingly stupid characters with the movie they truly deserve.