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What was so fresh on TV sours on the big screen
Seattle Times staff reporter
What's not to love about an "After School Special" from Hell about a 47-year-old ex-con/junkie/hooker who moves back home and returns to high school?
Heartwarming premise aside, fans of Comedy Central's outrageously nasty 1999 series will just get weak déjà vu from the feature film, finally released after months in legal limbo. Nonfans will wonder what all the show's word-of-mouth was about.
The "prequel" covers plenty of the same ground as the series, although early scenes of Jerri Blank (Amy Sedaris) in the slammer provide brief satisfaction like something from Roger Corman in the Bizarro universe.
Jerri comes home to a comatose dad, a hostile stepmom who hangs out with the "meat man," and a hateful stepbrother. Most everyone at Flatpoint High treats her with utter contempt, too, including Mr. Noblet the science teacher (Stephen Colbert). But Jerri — sporting an overbite, hair out of a Florence Henderson fever dream and wardrobe that shouts "1970s bowling alley" — moves through it all with an emotional range that stretches from oblivious crassness to sexually predatory.
The plot revolves around a pivotal science fair. Principal Blackman (Greg Hollimon) needs a win for the school, and the closeted Noblet doesn't want hot-shot rival Dr. Beekman (Matthew Broderick) coming out on top. So it's up to Jerri and a couple of outcast nerds.
"Strangers with Candy," with Amy Sedaris, Stephen Colbert, Paul Dinello, Matthew Broderick. Directed by Dinello,from a screenplay by Sedaris, Colbert and Dinello. 97 minutes. R for sexual content, language and some drug material. Varsity.
Broderick is one of numerous big stars who pop up, as well as Sarah Jessica Parker (grief counselor Callas), Philip Seymour Hoffman and Allison Janney (school-district bigwigs). Unfortunately, Dan Hedaya replaces Roberto Gari from the series as Jerri's comatose dad, and there goes one of the funniest sight-gags: Each time the camera returned to dad Blank, he was inexplicably frozen in another wide-eyed coma rictus.
Maybe the series was so brazen that there was little new ground to strike. And maybe a half-hour dose was just right, because the film's pacing is torpid and many of the jokes fall flat. Still, to say that Sedaris performs without vanity is an understatement, and Colbert — now a comedy god because of "The Colbert Report" and his immortal White House roast — is just plain walking-around-funny. He tells Mr. Jellineck (Paul Dinello), "I wasn't pushing you away. I was pulling me toward myself."
Even though you can't tell young people nothing these days, here's my advice: Take the money you were going to spend on this movie and buy Paramount's complete DVD set of the TV series.
Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company