"Over the Edge" is an oafishly made movie that claims to deal with a documented case of adolescent unrest in an authentic upper-middle-class social setting, then manipulates the situation only for hypocritical suggestions of teen-age vice and picturesque sprees of teen-age violence.
Wrong notes begin to accumulate in the establishing scenes, which introduce the juvenile flotsam of New Granada, an isolated suburban community in Colorado, at their hangout, a recreation center lodged in a quonset hut. Director Jonathan Kaplan has such a faulty ear and gauche touch that the kids' amoral chitchat sounds preposterous rather than shocking or genuine.
From the outset we seem to be dealing with put-on punks. "Over the Edge" aspires to update "Blackboard Jungle" and "Rebel Without a Cause," but it has more affinities with Alan Parker's freakish trifle "Bugsy Malone," where moppets pretended to be gangsters and molls. Here they pretend to be junior-high barbarians. Kaplan insists on playing a transparently dishonest game, soliciting lurid, semi-pornographic interest with repeated suggestions that the kids of New Granada are foul-mouthed, drug-crazed, sexually precocious creeps while reserving the option of switching signals and doting on them in contradictory sentimental interludes, when they suddenly act as adorable as Bambi and his friends.
It's difficult to tell if the script (by Charlie Haas and Tim Hunter) was always derelict or perhaps thrown off course by the director's ineptitude. Occasionally, there's a hint of something satirically droll and maybe even purposeful in the dialogue, aimed at manifestations of absurd permissiveness and obliviousness on the part of the adult community in New Granada. For example, when the young protagonist Carl, played by Michael Kramer, returns home after being mugged by two mean contemporaries, his father is inexplicably deflected from showing his concern by a pal who insists, "That's what mothers are for." Come again?
Meanwhile, mom's line of inquiry is looking a bit batty. "Did they take any money from you?" she asks anxiously. "Four dollars," Carl shrugs. "Here's five!" she exclaims, eagerly pressing the bills into his battered mitts.
The sociology of New Granada is impossible to divine, since the kids remain an oddly unified rabble and the parents a phantom constituency of alleged cop-outs, represented only by Carl's absent-minded folks. None of the key episodes is linked by helpful chains of dramatic causality. Trouble starts when a kid angers a local patrolman (called Sgt. Doberman) by shooting out his windshield with an air rifle from a freeway overpass. Mistakenly implicated in the incident, Carl and his defiant best pal Richie (Matt Dillon, who went on to renown as a semi-tough kid in "Little Darlings" and "My Bodyguard") have more of a quarrel with the sniper than his potential victim, especially after Carl is roughed up by the sniper. Nevertheless, cop-hating is considered such an instant, sacred tradition in New Granada that it cancels out enmities between boys themselves.
The filmmakers also fail to find justification for the gaudy finale, in which the kids go on a rampage of trashing and arson at their school while parents, locked in the auditorium, huddle in terror, like the characters under attack in "The Birds." The ostensible motive--Richie has been killed while resisting arrest--is undermined by curiously incriminating facts: Reckless Richie elected to aim a revolver at the arresting officer at the time.
The teen-age population of New Granada seems to ask for big-time trouble all the time, so the movie's implicit pandering to adolescent resentment of adult authority may look imbecilic to kids as well as grown-ups.