Sunday 28 November 2010

Obscurity Files #30 - Combat Academy

With The American in cinemas this weekend, let's have a look at George Clooney's film debut from 1986. Today it's Combat Academy...

Max and Perry are two high school trouble makers that find themselves suspended on their first day back at school. Although most of their japes consist of nothing more than comedy bumper stickers, when one of their stunts damages some city property it's decreed that the boys should be enrolled into Combat Academy. Now, I'd be pretty sure that this sort of military school thing doesn't really exist, but it also featured in a very similar episode of The Simpsons, so it must be true.

There's a group of Russian dignatories headed for the school, and although Perry at least attempts to straighten up and fly right, there's no room for the rebellious Max's shenanigans. The Russian troops are visiting the academy so that both sides can partake in that most 80's of pastimes, WAR GAMES!!! Luckily, the war constitutes little more than running around an orchard with paintball guns, but they chuck on a message about pacifism and the arms race, just for good measure. For a guy who spent the first half of the movie running around with explosives, Max likes to send out mixed messages.

I know what you're thinking, that this is just a blatant rip off of Police Academy. Well, it's kind of a half truth. It's undoubtedly influenced by that film (with a generous helping of Caddyshack and Stripes), but we actually have the same person to blame for both films. Neal Israel, the writer of the original Police Academy story, went on to direct this film as a sort of cash-grab, tie-in effort. The title was changed from the original Combat High to further highlight the association with Police Academy, inadvertently creating a seemingly apt anagram. 'Combat Academy' equals 'act a bad comedy'. It's like kismet.

George Clooney's Major Biff Woods (complete with a thick bouffant before the salt and pepper grey set in) is second in command to his father the General, training the troops and strutting his stuff around campus. His grumpy dad may be this film's version of Captain Harris (perhaps cinemas greatest ever dickhead principal), but George is no Proctor. He's more of the stern disciplinarian like Sergeant Callahan was in the first Police Academy, just without the massive breasts.

All the ritual hazing seen in American schools is present, and Perry and Max deserve every minute of it. Max is terribly annoying, desperate for attention and constantly having a strop at anyone with authority. Perry's a bland sheep, very much the Milhouse to Max's Bart Simpson, but at least he's got an eye for the ladies. They fit into the outsiders present at camp. There's the joker, the stud, the effeminate foreign kid... all the high school stereotypes you could hope for. Biff is basically one of the jocks, but for some reason is much more likable than the two nerdy leads. 

Wallace Langham (Perry) is a familiar face from 80's films, appearing in both the good (Weird Science) and the bad (Soul Man). He's actually been quite a fairly busy film and television actor since the early 90's, recently sneaking in an appearance in The Social Network. Keith Gordon (Max) has popped up in a few things, but has largely moved away from acting and into directing. He's mostly stuck to TV work like Dexter (giving himself the odd cameo), but has also made a few features, most notably the 2003 Robert Downey Jr version of The Singing Detective.

George Clooney is fine in this, his film debut. Despite it being quite a bland role, there's flashes of the charm that have set him on his path of world domination (When he loses his cool and challenges Max to a fight, it's him you want to win), but it's hardly his finest hour. The film didn't even manage to made it into cinemas either side of the pond, going straight to direct-to-video hell. It's not necessarily a performance George should forcibly expunge from his CV, but I'm sure he's pretty glad that time and audiences have already forgotten this film.

Save from obscurity? NO

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