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SKY HIGH (article first published : 2006-02-19)

The new movie, Sky High, arrives without fanfare and is likely to slip by with few knowing it came and went - all of which is a pity, because it's a surprise delight, a sweet load of clever nonsense that makes for fun family viewing and restores some faith in director Mike Mitchell, who gave us the popular Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo and the forgettable Surviving Christmas.

Nudging and winking at the current Hollywood love affair with superhero stories, the film is a flashy bit of fluff that takes cues from The Incredibles and Fantastic Four.

It paints a colourful story centring on the offspring of superheroes, who attend the in-the-clouds high school of the movie title, reached via a yellow bus that sprouts wings and turbo-boosting engines.

Among newcomers to the school is young teen Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano of Almost Famous and Lords of Dogtown). He is the amiable but somewhat awkward son of the super-strong The Commander (Kurt Russell) and high-flying speedster Jetstream (Kelly Preston, John Travolta's wife), the most celebrated superheroes on Earth, who pose as estate agents by day.

But Will has a problem - unlike his colleagues, including a boy able to sprout six arms, a guy who can morph into a giant rock creature and a chap able to spit acidic saliva - young Will has no apparent powers.

All of which leaves him a tad embarrassed when he has to take the podium to reveal his powers and be placed in a class for heroes or for sidekicks.

Sidekicks it is - along with other lesser curiosities that include Will's longtime pal Layla (pretty newcomer Danielle Panabaker), a girl able to make plants grow fast; and geeks including a girl able to morph into a guinea pig, a boy who can glow in the dark and another able to dissolve into an icky splodge.

The "hero support" students are looked down upon by members of the hero contingent, who make life a misery for them. And Will faces a particularly hard time from the cleverly-named Warren Peace (handsome newcomer Steven Strait), who has a bone to pick since Will's parents were responsible for sending his baddie-superhero parents to jail.

But that's the least of Will's problems - his biggest headache is to try to figure out how to tell his celebrated parents the horrible truth that he's an ordinary human. It's a task made more difficult in that The Commander wants Will to follow in his footsteps.

Will also faces another possible problem . . . the interest in him by pretty Gwen Grayson (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), the student body president and homecoming organiser, not only threatens his friendship with the secretly infatuated Layla, but seems unlikely and could point towards something sinister.

Sky High is laced with mickey-take moments and witty asides that include a disappointed Commander, on hearing the truth about Will, muttering: "All I ever wanted for him was to save the world!"

Another great moment involves Lynda Carter, as Principal Powers, leaving a detention room, where all super-powers are neutralised, muttering something like, "I'm not Wonder Woman, you know". She was, of course, just that in the hit 60s American television series.

Fresh, funny, tongue-in-cheek and with a good moral that says it's cool not to have to be a member of the super-cool set, Sky High is a movie that adds up to the perfect matinee choice. Treat the kids! - Billy Suter




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