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Kickin’ It Old Skool’ gets high marks for effort

Erin McGinn | Monday, April 30, 2007

“Kickin’ It Old Skool” is proof that sometimes you just can’t pick movies based on the reviews at rottentomatoes.com. Although the movie is currently enjoying a zero percent rating on the popular critical Web site, for fans of 1980s pop culture, it’s an enjoyable trip down memory lane.

12-year-old Justin Schumacher is an average kid of the 80s – trading Garbage Pail Kids collectible cards with his friends, emulating the fashions of professional break-dancers and developing a crush on classmate Jennifer. After Jennifer shoots down the advances of “cool kid” Kip and makes it known that she like Justin as well, a freak accident occurs and Justin flips himself off the stage during a talent show, lands on his head and goes into a coma.

Flash forward 20 years and a 32-year old Justin (Jamie Kennedy) finally wakes just as his harried parents Marty (Christopher McDonald) and Sylvia (Debra Jo Rupp) are about to pull the plug on his life support. In the spirit of the ’80s classic, “Big,” Justin remains the 12-year old stuck back in 1986 and has to find a way to adapt to a world that has continued to change and evolve without him. When he overhears that his parents are financially strapped from all his medical bills and are about to lose their house, Justin pieces back together his old circle of friends, the Funky Fresh Boyz – Darnell (Miguel A. Nunez, Jr.), Aki (Bobby Lee) and Hector (Aris Alvarado) – and convinces them to compete with him in a dance contest offering a grand prize of $100,000. As they start their training, Justin also faces a grown-up Jennifer (Maria Menounos) entering back into his life. She, of course, happens to be engaged to Kip (Michael Rosenbaum), as arrogant as an adult as he was as a preteen.

While not a terrific movie on its own, “Kickin’ It Old Skool” shines in its ability to reference nearly every beloved ’80s icon. The film also includes the obligatory cameo by David Hasselhoff, who appears in a “Don’t Hassle the Hoff” T-shirt while delivering the Trans Am from “Knight Rider.”

Kennedy is wide-eyed and sweet as Justin, but tends to overreach by portraying what appears to be a mentally disabled person, rather than a kid in an adult’s body. He would have done far better studying Tom Hanks’ performance in “Big” and trying to emulate the childlike persona that Hanks nailed.

In her major acting debut, Menounos (formerly an “Entertainment Tonight” and “Channel 1” correspondent) is dreadful as the object of Justin’s affections. She’s pretty to look at, but has the emotional capability of a Barbie doll and hits a wall whenever she has to sell a line of dialogue. It’s not all Menounos’ fault, though – her character was written as a dim bulb, which becomes infuriating during the film. Her motivations are also completely lacking, since it is never believable that a sweet girl like herself would be involved with the borderline-sociopathic Kip, who treats her and everyone else like dirt.

Rosenbaum (TV’s “Smallville”) plays the bad-guy boyfriend part with an exaggerated lack of redeeming qualities and delivers one of the better performances of the film.

This is one of those movies that can only really be enjoyed with a great audience. If people aren’t clapping or shouting inappropriate comments at the screen, the movie loses the only value it has.