The humor journal/zine The Lowbrow Reader now has a collection of all its articles called The Lowbrow Reader Reader. Amongst contributions from John Waters and Patton Oswalt, articles about Adam Sandler, Don Knotts and CAR-Toons is some film reviews I wrote a few years ago. Here is an excerpt from my review of Up The Academy.
Possibly envious of National Lampoon’s crossover success, Mad sponsored a movie two years later. Unlike Animal House, written by National Lampoon staffers, Mad apparently agreed to put their name on a project already being developed by parent company Warner Brothers. Mad Magazine Presents Up The Academy was Animal House at military school.
Four kids are sent to Weinberg Academy for disgracing their families. One is Chooch (Ralph Macchio), who wants to be a lawyer instead of joining the mob with his dad. Oliver (J. Hutchinson, later an executive at 20th Century Fox), son of a pro-life mayor, knocked up his girlfriend (Stacy Nelkin, upon whom the Mariel Hemingway character in Manhattan is based) and they’re both sent away to salvage his father’s re-election. Everyone sneaks out at night and gets caught by the tyrannical Sgt. Liceman (Ron Leibman, who had his credit removed). He threatens to blackmail Oliver, but they turn the tables on him.
Though an obvious imitation of Animal House, it’s apparent that screenwriters Tom Patchett & Jay Tarses (Carol Burnett, Bob Newhart) didn’t “get” what they were emulating. There’s something off about much of the humor, such as the pederastic and predatory Sgt. Sisson (Tom Poston), or the students openly masturbating during a class taught by sexy artillery instructor Miss Bliss (Barbara Bach). Potentially funny gags are ruined by Robert Downey Sr.’s detached direction, which suggests Airplane! directed by Robert Altman. Downey's career had declined precipitously since his days as an underground filmmaker in the sixties. However, this makes for some unintentionally brilliant comedy torture, such as one piece involving a preppy vocal group whose off-key notes break everything glass in a scene that goes on for three minutes.
Up The Academy closed its first week. The few readers of the comparatively innocuous Mad who saw it flooded publisher Bill Gaines with complaints. He sent handwritten apologies to every one of them and paid $30,000 to divorce Mad from the film. It’s left off ancillary packaging, but the creepy prosthetic Alfred E. Neuman is still in the video’s titles.
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