Jack Black appoints himself the heir to John Belushi and Chris Farley in The School of Rock, where he plays a slob who bulldozes his way through life, forcing everybody to see it his way. As Dewey Finn, an out-of-work rock singer/guitarist who just got fired by his band for taking 20-minute solos, Black all but hurls himself at the screen. He doesn't have Belushi and Farley's physical presence, although he fills out a pair of tighty-whiteys quite nicely. But boy does he have a mouth on him. Many will remember Black's small role in High Fidelity as a record-store employee whose caustic remarks sent customers racing for the door. Dewey has the same encyclopedic knowledge of rock 'n' roll, but he'd rather share that knowledge with the world than restrict it to those who have done their homework ' hence, his plan to shape the fifth-graders at Horace Green Elementary School into one kick-ass band.
He's there under false pretenses, posing as a substitute teacher to earn some quick cash. And the movie's funniest moments are when he force-feeds his students the kind of lessons that don't usually get learned inside a classroom ' the opening chord progression to "Smoke on the Water," for instance, or the fact that rock music, when you get right down to it, is all about sticking it to The Man. The School of Rock can hardly be said to stick it to The Man. Directed by Dazed and Confused's Richard Linklater, who should know better, it follows formulas that Hollywood's been working on for years, from The Bad News Bears to Dead Poets Society. But Black provides just the anarchic streak that the movie needs. A little short on talent, Dewey pursues the religion of rock with the kind of crazed intensity that can move mountains. When he's up there doing his thing, we're not worthy.