I suppose I should tell you to beware of Strangers with Candy. It's nowhere near as good as the Comedy Central show it's derived from. But those of us who used to set our clocks by the demented misadventures of Jerri Blank Ã?' "a boozer, a user and a loser" who, after a lengthy stay in prison, takes another swing at high school, having struck out the first time Ã?' will accept whatever comes our way. And that's what sent me running out to see this strangely disappointing movie, a lost episode that remains to be found. The good news is that Amy Sedaris, the woman who yanked Jerri from the far reaches of her fetid imagination, is in top form, scoring laughs off her face alone Ã?' that vicious overbite, the eye tic, the ski-jump hairdo. Unless you set your clocks by her "Letterman" appearances, where she shares her own demented misadventures, you'd never know that Sedaris is actually quite attractive. But what makes her such a great comedian is her willingness to let things get ugly.
That was the television show's strength as well. Taking off from those '70s after-school specials where, when life dealt you lemons, you made Lemon Pledge, it showed us just how bad high school can be Ã?' wave upon wave of intense boredom, punctuated by random acts of senseless cruelty. And the movie version doesn't let up a bit, sending Jerri back into the Crazy House, where she spends half her time sucking up to the cool kids, the other half warding off blows. She remains a rather dim bulb. When Principal Blackman (Greg Hollimon, as amusingly deranged as ever) asks her what her IQ is, she doesn't miss a beat. "Pisces," she says. And yet she winds up competing in the annual science fair, an intramural wrestling match that brings out the worst in everybody, and I mean that in a good way. Still, you have to wonder: Is this the best the filmmakers could come up with? A science fair? Do schools even have science fairs anymore?
Paul Dinello (who also directed) and Stephen Colbert (who co-wrote the script with Dinello and Sedaris) are back as Mr. Jellineck and Mr. Noblet, whose office romance is a secret to nobody but themselves. And a number of big-name actors Ã?' Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker, even Philip Seymour Hoffman, who acts like he just stopped by to have his parking ticket validated Ã?' put in appearances. But nobody can seem to lift this thing out of what appears to be a bad case of the doldrums. Dinello gives many of the scenes a shadowy noir look, which makes no sense at all. And the comic bits, though often amusing, don't build. Except for the script, which contains some wonderfully wicked lines Ã?' "I need more out of this relationship than I'm willing to put in," Noblet tells Jellinek Ã?' the movie seems to have been flung together on a couple of spare weekends. And that's too bad, because Jerri Blank, the buck-toothed poster girl for No Child Left Behind, deserves much, much more.