Back to School (1986) / Comedy
MPAA rated PG-13 for language, sexual humor and some drug use
Running time: 96 min.
Cast: Rodney Dangerfield, Keith Gordon, Sally Kellerman, Burt Young, Robert Downey Jr., Paxton Whitehead, Terry Farrell, M. Emmett Walsh, Adrienne Barbeau, William Zabka, Ned Beatty, Sam Kinison, Robert Picardo
Cameo: Kurt Vonnegut, Edie McClurg, Becky LeBeau, Danny Elfman (Oingo Boingo)
Director: Alan Metter
Screenplay: Steve Kampmann, Will Porter, Peter Torokvei, Harold Ramis
Review published October 29, 2011
Stand-up comedian extraordinaire Rodney Dangerfield (Caddyshack, The Projectionist) stars as Thornton Melon, who has made millions with his own wildly successful Tall & Fat line of clothing stores. His ungrateful, philandering wife (Barbeau, The Cannonball Run) isn't much to come home to, so Thornton decides to continue his education at the college his son Jason (Gordon, Dressed to Kill) is going to, so they can spend some quality time together. However, Thornton is used to just throwing his money at his problems, paying others to do his work for him (Kurt Vonnegut gets the most memorable cameo, having been hired to ghostwrite a paper on himself, to which the professor claims he doesn't know diddly), and even tries to grease the wheels for Jason, much to his chagrin.
Making or breaking one's enjoyment of Back to School will be one's liking of Rodney Dangerfield and his routine of one-liners, insults, wisecracks, and self-effacing quips. If you love Rodney, it's a good bet for a couple of hours of entertainment. Very funny lines are strewn about, many taken right out of Rodney Dangerfield's own stand-up act, and Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters, Stripes) also shares a screenwriting credit (Rodney himself is co-credited with he story idea).
But it's really Dangerfield's ability to come across as a loveable lug that makes Back to School one of his best films, delivering solid laughs and the ability to root for him to overcome the odds, even when his money isn't enough to serve him. He puts forth a performance most wouldn't consider flattering, but many would find endearing, as he sings 'Twist & Shout' in a local club, and strips down shirtless on a number of occasions to show off his rather unflattering, pot-bellied physique. In addition, he has some good scenes of being an obtuse father who means well that comes off as genuine, and even does remarkably well in a would-be romance with am English literature professor who happens to fall under his charm, even through the perpetual smart-ass commentary.
For Dangerfield fans, it's a must, while those who just enjoy simple comedies set up just for laughs, particularly from the 1980s, should find a good deal to like as well.
©2011 Vince Leo