I WISH Ferris Bueller were a friend of mine. He's the kind of pal who talks you into cutting classes, into grabbing a summer day before it gets away.
Yep, Ferris is one terrific kid, and "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is one terrific movie -- a John Hughes teen manifesto in the tradition of "Breaking Away." It's acted with assurance, directed with precision and written with universal appeal. They just don't make them like this anymore.
Matthew Broderick has the title role in this laugh-packed comedy of scrapes and adolescent escape framed with Broderick's saucy soliloquies. Broderick, who honed the technique of talking to the audience on stage in "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Biloxi Blues," transfers the aside to the screen with deceptive ease, looking us in the eye, confiding his plans for playing hooky.
It's an irresistible blue day, and Ferris Bueller has a test in European socialism. "I'm not European. I'm not planning on being European," explains Ferris, who persuades his parents that he's sick and the student body that he desperately needs a spare kidney.
Ferris is the archetypal all-American boy, a direct descendant of Tom Sawyer and Joel ("Risky Business") Goodsen with a lot of Andy Hardy mixed in. Everybody loves Ferris, to the supreme irritation of his jealous sister (Jennifer Grey smolders with sibling indignation) and the suspicious dean of students (Jeffrey Jones, whose pursuit of the truant Ferris recalls a prim Clouseau). Jones, who played the Emperor Joseph in "Amadeus," is as physically funny as Broderick is boyishly serene.
In this well-managed melange of styles, Hughes crosscuts between the dean, fuming in a compost heap, and Ferris, bound for the Loop in a limited-edition Ferrari with his girl friend Sloane and his best friend Cameron. Alan Ruck, also of "Biloxi Blues," lends pathos and purpose as Cameron, the long-suffering sidekick and comic counterpoint. A day off changes Cameron's life, as well as the lives of the dean and Ferris' sister, who learns to take things easy like her free- spirited sib.
"Day Off," true to Hughes' other work -- "Sixteen Candles," "Breakfast Club" and "Pretty in Pink" -- has its teen themes, but like "Risky Business" or "Gregory's Girl," it's witty enough for adults, too. In one apt exchange, Ferris persuades Cameron to borrow his father's Ferrari. "My father loves this car more than life," says Cameron. "A man with his priorities so far out of line doesn't deserve such a car," Ferris retorts.
The director's deft crosscuts contrast the friends' meaningful day of hooky with their classmates' school daze. The students' eyes are glazed, their brains soggy; one boy is out cold on his desk in a pool of drool as the economics teacher drones on about the Smoot-Hawley tariff. Even if you haven't been inhaling chalk dust for decades, you'll laugh over these scenes.
"Day Off" transports you. It takes you out of yourself for a while -- like a Ferris-wheel ride, if you'll pardon the pun. It takes you higher, gives you an overview, and helps you appreciate the carnival.
FERRIS BUELLER'S DAY OFF (PG-13) -- At area theaters.