Special Ed

Young teens become super-empowered in Sky High.

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Sky High
Can a son of the Commander really be doomed to a life of  "hero support"?
Can a son of the Commander really be doomed to a life of "hero support"?
Remember the scene in X2, where Wolverine grabs a Dr. Pepper and enlists the aid of Iceman to make it cold? Take the tone of that scene and stretch it out to feature length and you get Sky High, a less angsty, more kid-friendly movie about teenagers attending a school for superheroes. Throw in a dose of the old Batman TV series for good measure: Kurt Russell appears here as Earth's greatest hero, the Commander, who uses a familiar red-flashing phone (it's a cell phone nowadays) and a pole to slide down into the secret computer lair.

But this isn't about the Commander; it's the story of his son, Will Stronghold (Lords of Dogtown's Michael Angarano). Will's mother is also known as the superheroine Jetstream (Kelly Preston), and he's too embarrassed to admit to either parent that he seems to have no powers at all. Unable to manifest any mutant abilities on his first day at the eponymous high school for heroics, he is labeled as a sidekick, or -- to use the politically correct term uttered by the more insecure in the group -- "hero support." The only other child born of superheroes who never manifests powers is the schoolbus driver, who goes by the moniker, natch, of "Ron Wilson: Bus Driver." And since he's played by Kevin Heffernan, of the excruciatingly unfunny comedy troupe Broken Lizard, you can see why Will might be troubled by the notion of meeting a similar fate. Of course, the other option for would-be heroes with no powers is to go study fear and the ninja arts with Liam Neeson in the Himalayas, but that's another movie.

Besides, this is a Disney film, and kids don't want to see the hero suffer too much, so it isn't all that long before Will actually manifests superstrength, catapulting him into the in-crowd and causing him to neglect his real friends, whose powers are somewhat less spectacular: Magenta (Kelly Vitz) can turn into a gerbil; Ethan (The Hughleys' Dee-Jay Daniels) can liquefy himself; and Zach (Nicholas Braun) glows in the dark. Layla (Danielle Panabaker), the de rigeur longtime childhood buddy of the opposite sex who has always been "just friends" with our hero, has the impressive ability to control plant life, but she's also a bit of a militantly PC type who decries the oppressive societal boundaries between hero and sidekick, voluntarily choosing sidekick as a means to identify with the downtrodden.

Mike Mitchell, who directs, has had an oddly inconsistent career, beginning with the Slamdance-award-winning short "Herd," which he followed up with Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo. Last year, he directed the Ben Affleck travesty Surviving Christmas. Here, his work is passable; most of the movie's best ideas seem to be ones that originate in the script, as the visuals aren't especially impressive.

Don't expect X-Men- or Spider-Man-style metaphors for adolescent angst and persecution; our heroes may be somewhat vulnerable to peer pressure and gorgeous babes, but ultimately they're quite well empowered for a bunch of teens. And it's not quite The Incredibles, but then, what is?

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