"Sky High", the new film starring Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston, Michael Angarano, Lynda Carter, Dave Foley and Bruce Campbell is a throwback to the Disney Studios of the 70s, when they made one cheesy live action film after another featuring people dealing with strange circumstances like becoming a dog or a computer. You know, the type of film Kurt Russell got his start in... I honestly thought that these films were made for the Disney Channel or straight to video, but for some reason, Disney decided to release "Sky High" in theaters. Now it is on DVD, where it should've started in the first place.
"Sky High" isn't a bad film, it just isn't worthy of theatrical release. The pleasant story is filled with some acceptable acting, some terrible acting, a truly bizarre climax and some amusing live action takes on comic books.
Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is about to start high school, but Will's parents, Steve (Kurt Russell) and Josie (Kelly Preston), realtors by day, are actually the world's most famous superheroes, The Commander and Jet Stream. The Commander has incredible strength and Jet Stream can fly, so naturally, they expect their son to have some powers of his own. Will is no ordinary kid, so he won't be going to an ordinary high school. He and his best friend, Layla (Danielle Panabaker), she can make plants grow at incredible speeds, are off to attend Sky High, a high school floating in the clouds over the San Fernando Valley (yet another excuse for the smog), where the children of all of the superheroes learn to enhance their powers. There is only one problem, Will doesn't seem to have any powers. Once there, he and Layla run into the usual high school problems and cliques, except all of the kids have a super power. Will even learns that he already has an arch nemesis, Warren Peace (Steven Strait), the son of a superhero and a villain. The Commander captured and jailed Warren's dad, the villain.
"Sky High" is not a terrible film, but everything about it just screams "Made for Cable" or "The Magical World of Disney". The running time of the film is tailor made for a commercial broadcast, most of the acting would be well-suited in a sitcom, and special effects are fun, but not completely polished or believable.
Michael Angarano, as Will, is pretty good, maintaining a fairly even performance free of the facial expressions and mannerisms common among bad teen actors in sitcoms. As he meets Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the Senior Class President, and falls in love with her, he ignores Layla, who secretly loves him. He makes all of this seem natural and believable.
Kurt Russell is amusing as The Commander/ Steve Stronghold. He has the square jawed, pomaded hair good looks of a superhero, relishing the corniness of the role. He displays the sort of bravado, strength and witlessness fairly common in stereotypes of superheroes. At one point, Will has brought some of his new friends home to study and The Commander returns from a mission. As he preens and shows off for the young admirers, in his superhero outfit, we get the sense he may have timed his arrival to coincide with meeting a group of young fans.
Russell is really doing a live action version of Mr. Incredible, for the superlative Pixar animated feature "The Incredibles". Unfortunately, he doesn't add any thing new to the character and it pales in comparison.
The acting really falls apart with the supporting cast. Every high school stereotype you could imagine is evident. If the filmmakers had made any attempt to integrate these stereotypes into superpowers, a nerdy kid with big glasses has x-ray vision, they might have been more interesting. As it is, their powers have no connection and are seemingly random. A nerdy African American kid can melt. A Caucasian wannabe rapper can glow in the dark. A tough Asian girl can become a gerbil. Yawn!
Bruce Campbell seems to be having fun as Coach Sonic Boom, whose power is that he can speak really loud, knocking people off their feet. Lynda Carter plays Principal Powers and has an amusing line at the end of the film. Dave Foley is amusing as the perennial sidekick, who now teaches future sidekicks, yet is always willing and welcome to the idea of working with a new superhero.
As the TV movie hurtles towards its inevitable climax, we realize that two things must happen. Will will recognize what his powers are and use those to save the day. And all of his friends, who have been relegated to the second tier "sidekick" class, will help.
"Sky High" has a message, so important in any Disney Made-for-Cable film. When Will and his friends are labeled "Sidekicks", Layla frequently mentions that she doesn't believe in classes or labels. This is a great message, especially when you consider the intended audience for the film, but it gets lost. When the sidekicks help save the day, their powers are Unitaskers and we realize they could never save the day alone. In other words, they are sidekicks.
The villain, who resembles a reject from a Mighty Morphin Power Rangers show, has a truly bizarre back-story. It is difficult to understand how anyone thought this would be cool, or interesting. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. However, I can say that it is unique.
"Sky High" will probably not appeal to pre-teens or teens, despite the prevalence of this age group in the film, it is much too light and low key for them. If you have a six to nine year old in the house, they might enjoy it. Otherwise, stay clear of "Sky High".