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June 21, 1980 - Image 5

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1980-06-21

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The Michigan Daily-Saturday, June 21, 1980-Page 5
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Yes, it's time to start worrying

The Mad magazine vehicle Up the
Academy appears on the surface to
have the makings of a racy, hilarious,
socially conscious farce; it is directed
by Robert Downey (known for such
audacious social satire as Putney
Swope), it has an "R" rating, which
implies that its contents are in a dif-
ferent league than the kid-stuff in the
. magazine, and its advertising suggests
an anti-war theme. But alas, the film is
no more sophisticated or telling (or
even funny) than the deteriorating
magazine and is aimed directly toward
the same ten-year-old audience.
Up the Academy is far more a fun-
loving kids versus repressive, corrupt
adults stock film than any kind of
pacifist work. Downey depicts in his
brazen, unreal camp style the woes of
four teenage boys who are sent to the
Weinberg Military Academy against
;heir desires: Offspring of a profit-
motivated black evangelist, an Italian
mafia head, an Arab oil baron, and a
Michigan mayor of questionable com-
petence up for reelection. These young
men must deal with the cunning, over-
bearing, omnipresent Major Liceman
(Ron Liebman), an instructor who once
served at My Lai and whose appearan-
ce is always presaged by cold gusts of
wind and a huge, dark shadow. His students
never have a moment of rest, and he
goes to especially great pains to nake
sure the Michigan. boy is kept away
from a girlfriend. He gets his kicks by
tying up women in parachute cord.
THE MAJOR is at the center of the
film's dramatic life, and this makes
Ron Liebman's poor casting all the
more unfortunate. It's not that he's a
bad actor-he's simply too gentle in his
manner and appearance to be very
threatening; he is much more in place -
as the union organizer in Norma Rae.
The acting of the teenagers is, on the
whole, over-exaggerated even for
unreal comedy of this type, though
Wendell Brown is quite likeable as the
evangelist's son. Another memorable
performance is given by Barbara Bach,
possibly the film's biggest selling point,
in the irrelevant role of a weapons in-
structor who teaches with her blouse
unbuttoned to her navel, handling shells
and grenades with purely sexual relish.
But Barbara Bach's breasts aren't
S bared enough to give rise to an "R"
rating. That results from a good deal of
verbal obscenity and a supposedly
humorous scence involving off-screen
intercourse-nothing today's ten-year-
olds don't know plenty about. Indeed,
the adolescent audience this bomb is
aimed for might welcome its ostensibly
anti-establishment theme and its an-
noying soundtrack of consistent AM-
rock. The movie's humor rarely holds
more sophistication than in its depic-
tion of an elderly general who loses
balance when he salutes too forcefully
and has such resounding gas problems
that those around him resort to oxygen
masks, or. of a gay instructor who
parades around all evening tucking the
boys in and offering to wash their un-
If this were all there were to it, I
could stop here and let Up the Academy
pass as a relatively harmless children's
comedy but there is more to it. The film
presents itself as a pacifist work, but is
absolutely does nothing to achieve this
end and in'fact even contradictsthe

very tenet it supposedly starts with.
Tom Patchett and Jay Tarses have
written a careless and ideologically
irresponsible script which brings up
many important issues but fails to
follow through on any of them.
IN THE FILM'S title sequence, row
upon row of toy soldies fall in a chain
reaction while Mad trademark Alfred
E. Newman, decorated in military
leader's garb, watches over all and
gives his now-classic shrug of total in-
difference. Surprisingly, the film never
even touches on the futility of the mass
slaughter brought on by war, and only
briefly alludes to battle at all. Alar-
mingly, one of the film's few serious
sequences involves the parents wat-
ching proudly on visitors' day as their
sons perfom military exercises.
Although Liceman occasionally
resorts to violence, he is depicted as
being evil because of his insidiousness
and sexual perversity, rather than
because of his military status. He tries
to blackmail the Michigan boy into
allowing him the sexual favors of his
girlfriend with the threat of releasing
photographs that would ruin his
father's campaign. The boys them-
selves, characters we are supposed to
respect, fight back even more cun-
ningly and less fairly than the Major.
They manage to photograph the Major
at a particularly embarrassing
moment and then make a deal which
involves the destruction of all pictures.
Not only do they go back on their
promises, they blow up their

photograph and display it during
visitors' day, sending the Major tum-
bling into ruin.
As though the eye-for-an-eye philoso-
phy ween't inappropriate enough with
respect to the pacifism stance this film
supposedly supports, these young men
take the whole head for an eye. The last
shot, one of a demoted Liceman run-
ning after the teenagers, who have
driven off with his knapsack, is
repeated again and again as a kind of
cinematic revenge for repetitive drills
he had forced on them earlier. In itself,
the trick is amusing, but it does not
comply with any attempted ideological
ALL OF THE parents in Up the
Academy are shown as corrupt and
villainous, and their teenagers are vir-
tuous and likeable by comparison. Does
this suggest a message about a moral
decay that comes with age? No, those
empathetic characters all exhibit
disheartening echoes of their parents'
stereotypical behavior; the black cadet
enjoys drugs and apparently has sex
with each of his oft-replaced step-
mothers, the Arab suffers from klep-
tomania and ritually worships cans of
motor oil, the Italian is just plain un-
friendly, and the Michigan teenager is
forever impregnating his girlfriend and
wants to get the incriminating
photographs of the act back not to save
his father's election, but so that he
won't lose out on a new sports car his
father has promised him. Either this
discrepancy is an oversight, which may

very well be the case, or we are being
told that these traits are inevitable and,
hence, laughable. Both alternatives
suggest a total lack of concern over the
issues at hand on the part of the scrip-
twriters. -
Most distrubing are the implications
of the presentation of the Arab boy.
Early in the film, he launches a soccer
ball into the air, probably in a rage at
Liceman, and it lands on the Major's
head. He puts an innocent look on his
face and denies any part in the attack.
We would forget about this if it weren't
paralleled in an unusual, detached in-
cident later on. It is the Arab's function
to launch a rocket during the singing of
the national anthem on visitors' day. To
the horror of all present, when he does
so the rocket totally demolishes a
bridge. The spectators soon forget the
incident, but not before catching a
glimpse of his nervous, yet un-
mistakabley defiant expression.
We are at a loss as to exactly what to
make of these incidents; the boy is
likeable and relatively docile at other
-times, and the destructive tendency
that subverts these characteristics is
not developed in any other way. Are
Arabs supposed to be irretrievably
disposed to war? Should one just laugh
the bombings off without thinking, or
See 'MAD', Page 8

Daily Photo by DAVID HARRIS
Mandingo Griot Society
This internationally flavored, unclassifiable group of musicians is shown
here conducting a workshop at the Michigan Union Friday afternoon, before
their concert there last night.

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