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High School Debacle

MOVIE REVIEW
St. Trinian's (2007)

Girls of St. Trinian's - St. Trinian's (c) 2009 NeoClassics Films Ltd.
NeoClassics Films

This sixth “St. Trinian’s" film, which opened in Britain in 2007 before finally earning its American release this week, attempts to reboot the franchise based on the work of Ronald Searle. Beginning with 1954’s “The Belles of St. Trinian’s” and culminating, or so it seemed, with “The Wildcats of St. Trinian’s” (1980), it’s a beloved comedy series in Britain, if only a semi-known one stateside.

The task of comparing this picture to its predecessor will be best left to the experts. But given its striking resemblance to average Disney Channel fare — functioning as a sort of “Hannah Montana” mixed with “Lizzie McGuire” plus some distinguished actors — one can confidently say that directors Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson have updated the series for the present-day pop world.

Whether that’s a favorable development, though, is far less clear. It certainly is for the adolescents that drove the film to box-office heights overseas (its press materials declare it to be Britain’s third highest grossing independent film, which is great news for iconic distributor Ealing Studios). But it leaves those of us outside the intended age range with little to take home. Despite the presence of Rupert Everett in the double role of siblings Camilla and Carnaby Fritton, Colin Firth as a credible uptight villain and the dependable Russell Brand, the picture stagnates quickly and makes only halfhearted attempts to involve older viewers (it revolves around a plot to steal Johannes Vermeer’s “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” which leads to the obligatory Scarlett Johansson-Colin Firth reference, ha ha).

The story of the eponymous school’s wild, wacky girls and the ways they focus their rambunctiousness on a quest to save the institution functions as a tame, glittery spoof without a brain in its head or a character worth caring about. It espouses empty, pandering girl power sentiments portrayed in a makeover montage, a halfhearted espionage sequence, rushed scenes of students acting up and the sort of brainless hit-your-head-and-fall-down caliber slapstick that likely hasn’t inspired so much as a chuckle since the days of the Keystone Kops.

Believability matters not, submerged beneath the forced comic frenzy. The only real subversive pleasures offered here come in the romantic entanglements that develop between Messrs. Firth and Everett’s matronly, drag-cloaked Camilla. The screenplay hints at an elaborate back story between the characters and some past heartbreak. Now there’s a narrative worth exploring.

ST. TRINIAN’S

Opened on Oct. 9 in the United States.

Produced and directed by Oliver Parker and Barnaby Thompson; written by Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft; director of photography, Gavin Finney; edited by Alex Mackie; music by Charlie Mole; production designer, Amanda McArthur; released by NeoClassics Films. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

WITH: Rupert Everett (Miss Fritton/Carnaby Fritton), Colin Firth (Geoffrey Thwaites), Russell Brand (Flash Harry), Gemma Arterton (Kelly), Mischa Barton (JJ French), Lena Headey (Miss Dickinson), Talulah Riley (Annabelle), Stephen Fry (himself), Toby Jones (Bursar), Jodie Whittaker (Beverly), Anna Chancellor (Miss Bagstock) and Celia Imrie (Matron).

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