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‘Swing Kids’ (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 05, 1993

"Swing Kids" is a bad idea whose time has not come. It's "Cabaret" as Col. Klink might have envisioned it, a nutty anti-Nazi a go-go for teenagers, set to American music.

It's Hamburg 1939, and swing music is strictly verboten. The movie opens with a splashy number in a crowded cafe, where the local hepcats defy the Establishment by jitterbugging to American music in faddish English clothes. The filmmakers apparently see them as political rebels when they're just juiced adolescents (curiously blase about girls).

Peter Muller (Robert Sean Leonard) and Thomas Berger (Christian Bale) are wild about Benny Goodman and Count Basie as well as other black and Jewish American artists banned by the fascists. The cocky, fun-loving Swing Kids are a favorite target of their peers in the Hitler Youth.

Peter and Thomas, both 17, have resisted joining this dour group, but they are caught playing a prank and compelled to sign up. Though they've seen many friends converted by peer pressure and propaganda, the friends naively believe they are immune to the group's machinations. To Peter's despair, the weaker-willed Thomas is soon selling his own father to the Gestapo, baiting Swing Kids and bullying pathetic cripples.

Peter is made of sterner stuff, like Kevin Bacon in "Footloose." They can take their Bavarian slap dance and shove it -- he's going to swing heil. Sure, he could join the underground, stay home and help Frau Muller (Barbara Hershey) raise his younger brother. But he chooses a perfectly idiotic course in keeping with the Klinkian nature of the story.

"Swing Kids" is another daft idea from Disney on the order of "Alive," the movie about really bad airline food. It's a moralistic muddle with only one message: If Disney wants to make movies about Germans, it should restrict its efforts to German shepherds.

"Swing Kids" is rated PG-13 for violence and ethnic slurs.

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