Written by Musgo Del Jefe
The synopsis for Kickin' It Old Skool is pretty simple. Twelve-year-old, Justin, goes into a coma while breakdancing in 1986 and wakes up 20 years later in 2006. And wackiness ensues. That actually took less than nine minutes of the movie to set in motion. With clever editing, I could've set the conflict in motion before the first commercial break (Justin must enter dance contest to pay his parents back and win over long lost girlfriend). A few montages later, I could've been to the final dance contest by minute twenty and twenty-four minutes into the movie, I'd have the predictable conclusion to the contest and life back to normal. And there you'd have a typical CW show. One starring many of the actors that you'll see in this movie.
I figured this plot to be more along the lines of Blast From The Past (1999) - naive man from a simpler time finds love by representing a fresh difference to the mores of the current times. But what I got was a very poor man's Big. But I'll get back to that.
The first title tells us that it's April 20, 1986. Unfortunately, the director relies on generic '80s references that place this film somewhere much earlier in the '80s. In fact, it's such a mishmash of cultural clues, that had I not been told, I'd have a hard time to not guess 1983. I don't know when the director, Harvey Glazer, was born but Jamie Kennedy (Justin) was in his teens in this period and should've spoken up. We start the first scene with "Rapper's Delight" from 1980 and Justin wearing a Michael Jackson jacket from 1983. In the course of the first scene at the talent show we get references to Flashdance (1983), Smurfs, Blue Lagoon (1980), and Garbage Pail Kids Series 2 (1985). There's even a mention of Betamax (essentially dead to the world by 1984).
Justin and his friends (The Funky Fresh Boys) are performing at the school talent show. What do these hip twelve-year-olds choose to dance to? Is it some of the important hip hop of the era like Erik B & Rakim's "Eric B. Is President" or Run DMC's "My Addidas"? Maybe MC Lyte's "Cram To Understand" or the funky Doug E. Fresh's "The Show"? Nope. We get the predictably safe Herbie Hancock tune, "Rock-It" (1983). The fact that there's so much good music from this time period that could've been featured and was overlooked is symptomatic of the short cuts taken by the director and writers.
Once Justin awakes from his coma, we are quickly given the "clue" that this film is another Big (remarkably the debut for Debra Jo Rupp who plays Justin's mother here). How do we know? Because 32-year-old Justin is chewing Big League Chew. Get it Big League Chew. It doesn't get any more clever after that. While Tom Hanks worked his Josh character to perfection by employing the simplicity of the 13-year-old's point of view to the adult world, Justin does not apply his 12-year-old, 80's point of view to the world. Josh enjoys the adult world. Justin is only confused and perplexed. When Justin has a perfect chance to point out some of the ways we've changed since the '80s, what does he pick? Two of the most tired references - Star Wars and MTV - and he doesn't even add any commentary other than to point out that it's changed.
Twenty minutes into the film, we change directions slightly. Justin needs to "get the boys back together" to win a dance-off to pay back his parents. Our Blues Brothers quest takes less than twenty minutes and doesn't really meet any resistance. Darnell (the African-American member) needs money to buy diapers and please his bitchy wife. Hector (the Hispanic member) needs to lose weight. Aki (the Asian member) needs? Well, we're not really sure why Aki rejoins and Hector's reason is also a bit of a reach. But don't worry about character motivation here - it won't pay off in the end, anyway.
Justin encounters his beautiful old love interest, Jen (Maria Menounos), who's currently dating his old rival, Kip (Michael Rosenbaum), who comes across as evil Lex Luthor trying out for a lead role in the Derek Jeter story. Kip hosts the show that is sponsoring the dance contest, and of course, he does his underhanded best to sabotage Justin's chances.
Love blossoms, the Funky Fresh Boys find their groove (montage scene), innocence is lost (thank you for clueing me in Mr. Mister's "Broken Wings"), and no lessons are learned based on the 12-year-old innocence from the '80s. In fact, his 12-year-old persepctive only serves to get in his way (taking Ecstasy at the club - explained only in the deleted scenes). There's a dance contest to finish and I'll give the writers two things: we get to hear "The Real Roxanne" (at least it's from the right era), and they at least bother to tie in the failure at the talent contest in the beginning to the finals of the dance contest at the end.
A boy trapped in a man's body is fodder for many Hollywood films. Big took the innocence of the boy and viewed our world through that prism. Kickin' It Old Skool wastes that chance. Why does Tom Hanks eating the food at the fancy dinner party work and seeing Jaime Kennedy at Chuck E. Cheese's doesn't? It's the heart. It's the ache you feel when you realize what you've lost since those days. There is not wonderment here, only confusion.
Special Features: Imagine my surprise to find 29 minutes of deleted scenes. While many of them are true throwaways, one explained a very important event. We were led to believe that Justin drank only a Red Bull and became sweaty and incoherent at the club. In the deleted scene we see that he took an extraordinary amount of Ecstasy too. That event and his experiences were perfect fodder to contrast his innocence with the cruelty of Kip, his rival. The other small scene has him at a loss for words, finally quoting the Facts Of Life theme. That would later inform his quoting the Diff'rent Strokes theme song to his parents at the end of the film. "Everybody's got some special kind of story." Not so much.