A high-school comedy based around a band whose songs include “Beat on the Brat,” “Teenage Lobotomy,” and “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” should be pretty hard to screw up. The band practically wrote it for you. And credit the first-timers and no-names behind the Ramones-centered Rock ’n’ Roll High School for letting the movie make itself.
The delinquents at Vince Lombardi High School, led by troublemaking perm victim Riff Randell (Soles) get a new rock-’n’-roll-hating principal (their last one left campus in a straitjacket) just in time to spoil the upcoming Ramones concert. But Riff, who’s written a song she thinks the band will dig, is a punk rocker, so she cuts three days of class to wait in line for tickets for the whole school. (In the much cooler Rock ’n’ Roll High School universe, the Ramones are as popular as the Beatles and Batman combined). The plot, as you’ve noticed, sucks, but fortunately Riff, whose wardrobe and attitude take the “punk” out of “Punky Brewster,” is onscreen for approximately 15 minutes. The rest of the film consists of Ramones performances and loosely strung together gags that must’ve been improvised between huffs of paint thinner. Power-abusing hall monitors in Boy Scout uniforms bully students and teachers and write erotic letters to Principal Evelyn Togar — who, in lab coat and mad-scientist goggles, uses the chemistry lab to study punk rock’s mouse-exploding power.
Unfortunately, before the Ramones get hold of the title track (never one of their better songs) and commit lab-rat genocide, the song’s made forever uncool by a girls’ gym class lip-synching into jump-rope handles, and the band (minus original drummer Tommy, who was kicked out the year previous for — no shit — not doing enough drugs), who all play themselves and stick to lines like “Mmm, pizza. I want some,” somehow still manage to be terrible actors. Even if he did write “The KKK Took My Baby Away,” watching Joey Ramone — pushing 30 and looking like a partially melted Howard Stern — seduce a high-school senior is sort of horrifying. But that’s all a small price for any fan to pay to find out about the Ramones-mobile, a vintage convertible the band drives from town to town, rocking out innocent bystanders and, presumably, tracking down jewel thieves between sets.