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Fast Times at Ridgemont High

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Starring: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Director: Amy Heckerling
Rated: R
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: September 1992
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Ray Walston, Vincent Schiavelli, Forest Whitaker, James Russo

Review by Andrew Hicks
3 stars out of 4

It's January 1997 and, believe it or not, I just saw Fast Times at Ridgemont High for the first time. Like many other 80's favorites that people have been pleading for me to watch and review, it didn't live up to its overinflated hype, but it was still entertaining, and captured the essence of the early 80's, from the primitive video games to fashions and slang. One thing director Amy Heckerling always manages to do well in these aimless teen comedies (e.g. CLUELESS) is integrate what is current-at-the- moment clothes and dialect. This may tend to date her movies, but it also serves as an accessible time capsule to that time.

The movie, based on Cameron Crowe's supposedly factual book, centers around a group of high school kids, most of which work at the mall. Judge Reinhold takes pride in his burger-flipping job, a very young-looking Jennifer Jason Leigh and Phoebe Cates work at a dine-in pizza parlor, and dorky Brian Backer takes movie tickets while his slimeball friend Robert Romanus scalps concert tickets. The unemployed characters are also seen around the mall, with Sean Penn's pothead character Jeff Spicoli attempting to get service sans shirt in Reinhold's burger joint and beefy football player Forrest Whitaker shoving quarter after quarter into Space Invaders and Pac-Man.

There are plenty of in-school scenes featuring two teachers on opposite sides of the spectrum. Vincent Schiavelli is the nervous, outgoing type who wants all the kids to like him and Ray Walston is the crusty old fart who runs his class like a military outfit. Walston's main problem is braindead Spicoli (undoubtedly the inspiration for the BILL & TED movies), who disrupts class on a regular basis and even has a pizza delivered to the classroom one day.

In the Heckerling tradition, there's not much of a plot, just a series of loosely related scenes, most of which involve sex. Cates schools Leigh on a certain sexual technique, Backer tries to work up the courage to ask Leigh out, Reinhold is walked in on by Cates during an intimate personal moment, Penn trashes Whitaker's car, and so on. These anecdotal-type scenes work as a whole and manage to be almost poignant, especially in its telling of Leigh's disastrous history with men and boys.

Cameron Crowe, who has recently hit it big with the wonderful JERRY MAGUIRE, knows how people act and interact, and scripts it well. The ensemble cast acts it well, particularly Penn and Leigh. FAST TIMES is a quintessentially 80's movie, which means it includes sex and nudity. Leigh and Cates disrobed because everyone had to in order to make it big in the 80's. Nudity is a rare commodity these days, and this movie is still cut to shreds when aired on TV, so splurge for the fifty-cent video rental, especially if you're interested in seeing Phoebe Cates' breasts.

Copyright 1997 Andrew Hicks

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