If there’s any band out there that deserves their own movie, it’s the Ramones. Allan Arkush’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” is a bonafide love letter to the punk juggernauts that ruled music in the seventies and eighties. While the movie is a genuine tribute to the band, even with them appearing constantly to perform some of their greatest hits, “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” is also a very funny and silly movie, to boot. It’s a kind of a parody of a teen high school comedy that would oddly become the norm in the eighties. It’s also kind of a satire of Roger Corman’s own teen oriented films that has the foresight to tackle punk rock over the then popular disco. “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” is way ahead of its time in satirizing a lot of cliches that would become the standard, including the snooty classmates, uptight teachers, and of course, the evil authority figure.
This is the kind of movie you saw Homer watching on “The Simpsons” with the eighties cliches battling Dean Bitterman, and this movie is basically the template for that spoof. Mary Woronov is great as the villainous Miss Togar, a woman who hates students and literally makes it her mission to rob school rebel Riff Rendall of any and all fun. PJ Soles is fantastic as Riff, presenting a mix of sexy, spunky, and adorable as the ultimate Ramones fan. When we first meet her, she interrupts a school event at Vince Lombardi High to blast the Ramones for the students. When she finds out that the Ramones are coming to her home town, she decides to camp out in front of the local theater for days on end, and hopes to catch the attention of the group to give Joey Ramone songs she specifically wrote for them.
Meanwhile Riff’s friend Kate Rambeau, struggles to come up with believable excuses for why Riff is missing so much school. A lot of “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” is fearlessly silly, but thankfully never distracts from the movie’s clear intention of being a dedication to the band. There’s a really funny joke involving Togar exploring the effects rock has on a lab rat. In the climax of the film a literal giant rat appears in the Ramones concert. You assume a gag like that would fall flat, but it’s so goofy it’s hilarious. The movie belongs to PJ Soles, of course, and if you’re a fan of the great genre actress, Soles has a ball in this movie. She breaks the fourth wall to perform the song “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School” with her gym class, rocks with the band in the climax, and even has a fantasy sequence where she’s dressed in red lingerie and serenaded by Joey Ramone in her bed room.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the charming supporting performances by Dey Young, Clint Howard, and Lynn Farrell who is delightfully slimy as Riff’s nemesis Angel Dust. The Ramones thankfully appear in the film repeatedly, even performing some of their best songs in full length, including “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” Allan Arkush and Roger Corman’s film set the standard for future teen comedies in the eighties and is a very entertaining and raucous precursor to films like “Fast Times At Ridgemont High,” and “Porky’s.”