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  Up the Academy Bad SchoolingBuy this film here.
Year: 1980
Director: Robert Downey Sr
Stars: Ron Liebman, Wendell Brown, Tommy Citera, Hutch Parker, Ralph Macchio, Harry Teinowitz, Tom Poston, Ian Wolfe, Antonio Fargas, Stacey Nelkin, Barbara Bach, Leonard Frey, Luke Andreas, Candy Ann Brown, King Coleman, Rosalie Citera, Yvonne Francis
Genre: Comedy, Trash
Rating:  2 (from 1 vote)
Review: Four teenage boys will be new recruits at the Weinberg Military School, since they have irritated their fathers so much that they have been effectively sent there to get out of the way of their parents. Oliver (Hutch Parker) has a father who is a politician, and hopes to be re-elected, hence when his son gets his girlfriend Candy (Stacy Nelkin) pregnant, she is sent for an abortion and he is delivered to the academy. The others in his dorm are the sons of an evangelist preacher, a sheik and a Mafioso, but the real problem will come from Major Liceman (Ron Liebman) who brings a chill to every room - literally - and will become the bane of these boys' lives...

Up the Academy was the Mad Magazine movie, branching out into film after seeing their rivals at National Lampoon catch them out by funding Animal House, which was an enormous hit and painfully hip into the bargain. Hence the head honchos at Mad saw the cinematic landscape in that item's wake, some more successful than others, and thought they could show them how it's really done... with an end result that embarrassed them so badly they were forced to publish a public retraction and disown the whole production. Not only that, but star Liebman took his name off the credits as well, sinking its chances and impressing only the very easily impressed.

Nevertheless, this does have its fans, exclusively among those who relished its sense of humour that most audiences would term "just plain wrong". As expected from this era of comedy, the jokes ran the gamut from racist to sexist to all the other "ists" you could think of, but what it didn't manage was any of the trademark wit and ingenuity of its parent publication. Certainly it contained the irreverence most connected to Mad, but as for laughs, it resorted to the laziest stereotypes, championing the characters who were only heroic in comparison with the dreadfulness of their antagonists, and generally chasing the National Lampoon cash-in dollar shamelessly.

It may not be too clear why Animal House managed to hit the funny bone with such accomplishment when so many of its imitators missed by miles (Rock 'n' Roll High School being an exception that proved the rule), particularly when it could be as tasteless, if not more so, than anything in the copies, but perhaps it was because it was not a cheap and cynical imitation that the viewer trusted that film more; being first in line helped, of course. Liebman's role was humiliating, but his removal from the credits was more symbolic than anything since it was plainly him, and he was riding on a wave of success after his career best role opposite Sally Field in Norma Rae, so to go from that to this, never mind that it was a starring part, was quite the comedown. Everyone else was not so picky, and many were unknowns anyway.

Of the main kids, Ralph Macchio as the Mafia son would go on to be the most famous as he was still playing high schoolers in his twenties, and Stacy Nelkin achieved minor fame in a handful of film roles, though would be better known for television as her career drew on. Hutch Parker decided to give up acting and become President of 20th Century Fox, like you do, and occasionally glimpsed guest stars like Barbara Bach (doing a terrible Southern accent and lusted after as she takes a weaponry class) or Antonio Fargas (as the irate football coach) did little to raise the hopes in those watching that this would improve. Throwing in gags like the sheik's son doing his prayers to a pyramid of Castrol GTX or the Commandant (Ian Wolfe) landed with the running joke that he breaks wind with tremendous fury and stench were about the height of the material here: unthinking in its laziness, complacent with the barest minimum of effort. Oddly, a New Wave soundtrack was present, but simply sounded like someone was playing a jukebox just offscreen. Oh, and mascot Alfred E. Newman showed up as a kid in a rubber mask, totally not creepy. Much.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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