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'Recess' gang gets a vacation surprise in big-screen debut

Friday, February 16, 2001

By Scott Mervis, Weekend Editor, Post-Gazette

One of the less controversial aspects of George W's taking of the White House was his education plan, stressing higher test scores for our nation's schools.



STARRING: Voices of James Woods, Dabney Coleman, Melissa Joan Hart.

DIRECTOR: Chuck Sheetz.




So happens, that's what the villain in "Recess: School's Out" wants too, only his plan, while sure to require a tax increase or misappropriation of funds, is more brilliantly diabolical than anything W could think up.

It goes something like this: We'll fire a laser beam at the moon, changing its course and thus altering weather patterns to create a permanent winter that would, basically, make summer vacation kind of silly.

Somehow the only one who notices that a bunch of suits have taken over Third Street School to carry out the evil plan of Philliam Benedict (voice of James Woods) is T.J. Detweiler, leader of the "Recess" gang. Those with TVs locked on Nickelodeon know that "Recess" is a Disney cartoon (airing Saturday mornings on ABC) that lends insight into what the Rugrats will be facing in, oh, about seven years.

In "Recess," co-created by Rug-rats co-creator Paul Germain, boys and girls are starting to notice their differences, cliques like the prissy Ashleys rule the playground and teachers and principals have taken their place along with parents as authority figures to be reckoned with.

The reason T.J. is the only one around to monitor the school speaks to the overscheduling of kids today. Among his fourth-grade group, Spinelli the tomboy is going off to wrestling camp, fat kid Mikey to opera camp, brainy Gretchen to space camp, nerdy Gus is going the military route and it's baseball camp for the athletic Vince.

For lonely T.J., summer -- to use his trademarked word that means anything and everything -- is going to "whomp."

"We can't waste the whole summer fooling around like kids," his friend tells him, to which he replies, "But we are kids."

The turning of Third Street into a military-industrial complex serves T.J.'s interests of rescuing his friends from camp so they can fight the bad guys. It will also require getting Principal Prickly's "saggy butt" off the golf course and enlisting the muscle of their top nemesis, the crusty Miss Finster, who, in the film's action-packed climax, gets to quote Pink Floyd.

Frankly, it's all a bit much. Normally, little things happen on the playground of Third Street, like Spinelli feeling the pangs of a first crush or T.J. refusing to pass out valentines, and its everyday quality is what makes "Recess" appealing. But little things don't work on the big screen, especially in kids movies, and so while this overblown plot may be a necessary evil, it can't help but feel like some kind of "Mission Impossible" reject.

That won't bother kids, who don't get to see "MI" anyway. And their boomer companions, they'll be kept awake thanks to a soundtrack that includes "Incense and Peppermints," "Nobody But Me" and Robert Goulet singing "Green Tambourine" (where's Alice Cooper!?) and a groovy flashback that shows the roots of the bad guy's scheme going back to the hippie era.

If all else fails, they've got burp jokes, ninja fights and corn chowder dumped on a bald guy's head. All in all, it kind of whomps.

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