Everything about 'School Daze' is frantic, and the energy is addictive.
Spike Lee, who won accolades with his first movie, 'She's Gotta Have It,' follows up with this sometimes wild, occasionally uneven, and often superb satire-morality play of homecoming weekend at a mythical black college. Lee wrote, produced and directed 'School Daze' -- and stars, as well. He proves his comic genius in his first project wasn't just beginner's luck.
But like another frenetic director-writer to whom he's sometimes compared, Woody Allen, Lee is not always easy to watch. Similar to some of Allen's wilder earlier comedies, Lee takes a subject and throws it every-which-way, catching laughs where he can, absolutely fearless in his execution of jokes and situations that may not always have the audience in stitches. But he catches everybody eye -- and heart.
'School Daze' focuses on the friction between rival groups on an all-black campus: radicals versus fraternities, light-skinned versus dark-skinned blacks, 'townies' versus college 'brats.' Half-Pint, played by Lee, is cousin of campus radical Dap, played by Larry Fishburne, and will do anything to become a member of the fraternity headed by Dap's arch-rival, Julian, played by Giancarlo Esposito. The lengths the young and insecure Half-Pint goes to are embarrassing to everybody, but himself, and in this role, Lee resembles the irrepressible dork that Allen often plays in his movies.
But fraternity pledge week and homecoming aren't the only things going on at Mission College. There's the administration's dilemma about divesting its funds from South Africa; there's a young woman's angst about following her dreams no matter what her boyfriend says; there's the young students' realization that they are the embodiment of their parents' dreams for success -- and the object of jealous derision by those who feel success has passed them by.
'School Daze' is often complicated in its satire, making fun of the light skinned-black skinned controversy while pointing out its devisiveness. There's seems no single theme that holds center stage for too long, and not near enough of the nerdy Half-Pint ('School Daze' is often at its smartest and funniest when Lee is on camera).
And the ending literally screams its message at you.
But for all the low spots, there are twice as many high spots of hilarity and subtlety in 'School Daze.' We can only hope Lee has many more ideas up his sleeve, but this particular piece of magic is plenty of fun until then.
This film is rated R. Movie has explicit sexual scenes and language.