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Amy Heckerling
Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Judge Reinhold, Robert Romanus, Brian Backer, Phoebe Cates, Ray Walston, Scott Thomson, Vincent Schiavelli
Writing Credits:
Cameron Crowe

It's Awesome! Totally Awesome!

Fast Times At Ridgemont High, directed by Amy Heckerling (Clueless), is simply a modern cult classic. First-time screenwriter Cameron Crowe went undercover as a high school student and came back with the straight dope on sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, while capturing some of the most memorable screen characters ever. They're all here, from Stacy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Linda's (Phoebe Cates) sexual misadventures to go-getter Brad's (Judge Reinhold) quick career in the world of fast food to the unforgettable Spicoli (Sean Penn) as the ultimate surfer dude. Add appearances by Nicolas Cage, Anthony Edwards, Forest Whitaker and Ray Walston and you have an unbeatable cast. With all this talent behind it, no wonder Fast Times At Ridgemont High is as honest, fresh and funny as it was a generation ago.

Box Office:
$4.5 million.
Opening Weekend
$2.545 million on 498 screens.
Domestic Gross
$27.092 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Monaural

Runtime: 99 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 12/21/1999

• Audio Commentary with Director Amy Heckerling and Writer Cameron Crowe
• "Reliving Our Fast Times at Ridgemont High" Documentary
• Production Notes
• Cast & Filmmakers Biographies
• Theatrical Trailer
• "Hangouts of Ridgemont High" Video Map
• Music Highlights


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Fast Times At Ridgemont High (1982)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 7, 2004)

Back when I reviewed Porky's, I made note of the lack of subsequent success achieved by most of that film's cast. Check out the roster of talent and you will see many names that were never heard from again. I compared its actors to those of other films that included future celebrities, but somehow I neglected to discuss the ultimate cast that went on to hit it big.

That group of actors appeared in a movie that came out only a few months after Porky's: Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Let's take a quick look over some of this group: Sean Penn, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold, Forest Whitaker, Eric Stoltz, Anthony Edwards, and last - but not least - Nicolas Coppola, a young actor who would soon lose the family name and adopt "Cage" instead.

Even beyond this "A"-list are a number of recognizable folks. We have Bruce Springsteen's sister Pamela plus already-established actors like Ray Walston and Vincent Schiavelli. Hell, even Amanda Wyss went on to appear in another hit via 1984ís A Nightmare On Elm Street. The most notable duds - as far as future success went - were Robert Romanus and Brian Backer, but although their names are obscure, a glance through IMDB shows that they at least maintained serviceable careers.

I suppose it's ironic that one of the biggest stars to emerge from this group - Cage - has one of the smallest parts. He's a "blink and you'll miss him" character who doesn't speak a line. Keep an eye out for him!

The most obvious success story related to this film was Sean Penn. Although the movie concerns itself with five main characters - Penn's Jeff Spicoli, Leigh's Stacy Hamilton and Reinhold as her brother Brad, Romanus' Mike Damone and Backer's Mark "The Rat" Ratner - you wouldn't know that from most of the promotional material for the picture. They focus almost entirely on Penn's Spicoli character. If you didn't know better, you'd think the story was just about him.

Actually, he's a somewhat minor character in the scheme of things. Most of the story focuses on the other four roles I already mentioned, and Spicoli appears mostly for some comic relief from time to time. That's not to deny that the part isn't fun; indeed, Spicoli truly is the most memorable thing about Fast Times. But anyone who hasn't seen the movie shouldn't expect it to be just - or mostly - about him.

Penn's performance remains pretty remarkable. Yeah, it seems like it should be easy to play a stoner like Spicoli, as we've seen it done a thousand times since 1982. However, the level of perfection he achieves is astonishing. At the risk of sounding overblown, he becomes Spicoli. I mean, I knew guys like that in high school, and Penn nails it. His Spicoli is absolute perfection.

Actually, the acting in Fast Times is excellent across the board. Each participant successfully conveys what he or she needs to do in his or her part. Probably the best of the rest of the bunch is Leigh, who displays a very wide range of emotions as Stacy, the character who goes through the most during the film. She makes Stacy the epitome of a girl stuck somewhere between being a child and an adult, unlike most of the overly mature "teenagers" we usually see in this sort of movie.

Fast Times originally started life as a book from Cameron Crowe. In the late Seventies, he infiltrated a high school and posed as a student; although well past graduation, Crowe apparently looked very youthful. The result was a "tell-all" about his experiences there. I read excerpts from it, and it was terrific. (Unfortunately, the book now appears to now be out of print.)

Crowe adapted his book for this screenplay, and while it's good, it lacks the depth and intensity of the original work. I hadn't seen Fast Times in many years, and while I liked it, I found it to be pretty uneven. Too much of it just seemed to be the same kind of high school movie hijinks without all that much happening. The filmmakers like to tout that they made a movie about what was really takes place in high schools, and I must laud much of the film's authenticity; in fact, it now seems incredibly dated because it's so specific to 1982.

However, this scattershot approach means that the ultimate result isn't terribly coherent at times. I wanted to like Fast Times and overall, I found it to be pretty enjoyable. I just don't think it quite merits the classic status that it seems to have achieved.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio D+/ Bonus B

Fast Times at Ridgemont High appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. At times the movie looked very good, but a mix of flaws knocked down my overall impression.

Sharpness generally appeared positive. Some softness interfered at times, though, and a smattering of shots came across as a bit ill-defined. Still, most of the flick presented good delineation. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, but I noticed some light to moderate edge enhancement at times. A number of source flaws marred the presentation. I noticed more than a few instances of specks, grits and blemishes.

On the other hand, the movie presented surprisingly solid colors. The filmís palette tended toward a natural depiction of hues, and they always looked nicely bright and lively. Blacks were deep and dense, while most shadows seemed adequately clear. A few darker shots looked a bit too thick, but those were in the minority. I almost gave Fast Times a ďC+Ē due to the various print defects, but too much of the movie looked too good for me to drop it below a ďB-ď.

That's an improvement over the film's monaural sound, however, which was pretty weak. The quality of the audio was moderately poor. Overall, it usually seemed flat. I found most of the dialogue to seem intelligible, but it's not crisp or clear. Distortion was rarely a problem, although some of the effects crackled at times. The music generally seemed dull and lifeless. Even when I considered its age, Fast Times didnít present a good mix.

Happily the DVD rebounds when it comes to its supplements. First up is a pretty good audio commentary from writer Cameron Crowe and director Amy Heckerling, both of whom sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. They cover a mix of subjects but mostly focus on the cast. They tell us about how many of the actors came to the film as well as working with them and various improvisations. We get notes about the movieís tone and battles with the studio who wanted it to be sillier, and we also hear about the music and other production notes. Plenty of cool tidbits emerge, such as the fact the producers tried to hire David Lynch to direct! The track becomes a little too giggly at times, but it includes a lot of solid information and proves to be a winning commentary.

The DVD also features a 39-minute and 14-second documentary called Reliving Our Fast Times At Ridgemont High. The documentary mixes the interviews with film clips and production photos in the standard manner. We get remarks from Heckerling, producer Art Linson, casting director Don Phillips, and actors Judge Reinhold, Scott Thomson, Sean Penn, Eric Stoltz, Robert Romanus, Ray Walston and Brian Backer. They chat about the roots of the story, bringing it to the screen, casting, general anecdotes, its release and reception. The comments about the cast heavily dominate, as the vast majority of the show focuses on that subject. Nothing here stands out; it's very typical of the genre. The biggest surprise comes from the participation of Penn, who I didnít expect to see. It's ultimately a good piece but it seems vaguely lackluster. I liked it, but not tremendously so. Note that some of Heckerling's anecdotes from the commentary are repeated here.

A few other interesting supplements appear on this DVD. One unusual piece is called the Hangouts of Ridgemont High. It's a video "map" of four different locales: the high school itself, "the Point," All-American Burger, and the mall. In four separate clips that each run about 30 to 45 seconds - with a total of approximately two minutes, 40 seconds - we learn a little about the locations used for the film. It's brief but informative.

Among the more standard supplements are a too silly trailer, pretty good cast (seven members) and crew (just Heckerling) biographies, and some fairly strong production notes. Atypically, these notes are not the same as those included in the DVD's booklet; happily, each stands alone, and both are worth reading.

We also have a section of music highlights. This offers links to 19 songs in the soundtrack; click on the song of choice and the disc hops to that point. I can't say I've ever found this feature useful on the DVDs that include it, but it's a nice addition nonetheless.`

Finally, we get an Easter egg. In four different menus on the Fast Times DVD, you'll see images of little bare footprints. Click on these footprints and you'll move to another menu that offers links to "classic quotes." Each of the four menus provides links to four different quotes. Not surprisingly, most of these are from Spicoli, though a few other characters get their say.

While I liked the supplements for this DVD, one disappointment stems from the lack of deleted scenes. Clearly these exist, since Heckerling and Crowe discuss the TV version of Fast Times during their commentary; they indicate this edition featured a number of alternate takes. I don't necessarily want these inserted into the film itself - according to Heckerling and Crowe, they were pretty redundant - but I think they should appear on the DVD.

The launching pad for many famous actors, Fast Times At Ridgemont High remains an entertaining flick. Itís fun to see due to all the well-known participants, and it manages a reasonable amount of good material despite some inconsistencies. The DVD presents erratic but generally good picture quality with mediocre audio and a fairly interesting set of extras. Although Iím not wild about Fast Times, I like it enough to recommend it.

To rate this film, visit the Special Edition review of FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH