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'School Daze' : (R)

By Desson Howe
February 12, 1988

SPIKE LEE had something in mind while he shot "School Daze," his follow-up to the cult hit "She's Gotta Have It." Unfortunately it's still lodged behind his cranium. And the movie's out.

If you want a flippant label (and for this movie, you do), "School Daze" is something like a black "Animal House" or "Revenge of the Nerds," in which various student factions are engaged in a mindless intramural struggle while the women exhibit vanity, the men lust and the faculty gapes. But whatever is going on at fictional Mission College is too confusing to merit the term "mindless."

Confusing because Spike Lee's scenes are overdrawn when they're not under-explained. They build up either to predictable inanity or nothing at all. One scene, involving a homecoming football game, never once cuts to the game, only the people in the bleachers. Were they watching football, an empty field, each other? And in the crowded "overdrawn" category, there's an endless musical scene (which may make you look fondly on the TV series "Fame") in which dark-skinned students debate light-skins on the pros and cons of hair-straightening and being yourself. But wait -- maybe the choreography (by Otis Sallid) is so bad that it's almost good.

Naaaa.

There's more song-and-dance, even more cussing and contempospeak (as in "You're darn skippin' " and "I'll kick your bama a - -"), badly acted love spats between students, an altercation in a fast-food restaurant between students and local blacks (building to one of Lee's trademark non-crescendos), and more.

The "story" involves a fraternity called Gamma Phi Gamma, led by Julian (Giancarlo Esposito), who sports a brother-meets-the-Marx-Brothers hairdo. The group spends its energies putting a group of prospective pledges, all of them inexplicably bald -- including Lee as a wimpy guy called Half Pint -- through peculiar rites of passage. Meanwhile, the Gamma sister group is doing all that singing and dancing, and a band of politically oriented students, led by Dap (Larry Fishburne), is trying to get the college to divest itself of financial doings in South Africa. When all the college needed to do was divest itself of this movie.

SCHOOL DAZE (R)

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