Shedding `Light' on teen-age angst

Review: Much of `Light It Up' has a familiar feel. But there are enough redeeming insights to make the time you spend at this school worthwhile.

November 10, 1999|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

Spend some time around teen-agers and you learn that patience is not just a virtue, but an absolute necessity. In that vein, you'll need plenty of patience to make it through "Light It Up."

But, just as the 16-year-old who cracks up the family car can become a productive citizen, so does "Light It Up" become a movie that rewards the effort, even if it does pluck at practically the last nerve getting there.

Six teen-age characters form the nucleus of "Light It Up," and they fill virtually every movie stereotype. There's Stephanie, the smart, goal-oriented kid, and Rodney, the hot-headed, trigger-happy kid. Then, there's Rivers, the wiseacre kid, and Lynn, the sardonic and pregnant kid.

There's Ziggy, the gifted, sensitive kid, and Lester, the likable, athletic kid, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mix in the backdrop of a troubled New York high school, a wrong headed principal, an unconventional but popular teacher and an unyielding security officer and you could have a movie by the numbers.

In fact, a lot of the film has a rote feel, and Craig Bolotin the director has only Craig Bolotin the screenwriter to blame for it.

The predictability starts at the top, where Forest Whitaker's hard-hearted school cop has a hallway run-in with Lester (Usher Raymond) and Ziggy (Robert Ri'chard) that has foreshadowing written all over it.

It leads to the six kids taking over the school to protect Lester from facing charges for an accidental shooting.

But just as "Light It Up" starts to feel like an overblown TV movie of the week, it is redeemed by its interesting statements about the isolation teen-agers feel and their inability to better their situation.

As the "Lincoln 6," as they are dubbed, begin to attract media attention, the siege becomes the teens' vehicle of empowerment and legitimacy. "This might give my little life some meaning," says Rivers (Clifton Collins) -- and it all starts to make sense.

Music fans will know Raymond by his first name, but he exhibits an impressive sensitivity and depth here, as does the largely unknown Ri'chard. Sara Gilbert manages to make Lynn a strangely sympathetic figure, in spite of her hostility. And Judd Nelson, as the lovable teacher, does a sly turn on his "Breakfast Club" days.

Unfortunately, Vanessa L. Williams, as a hostage negotiator, and Rosario Dawson, as Stephanie, aren't given much to do but look beautiful and act noble.

On the whole, like raising kids, getting through "Light It Up" can be a chore, but the payoff is quite satisfying.

`Light It Up'

Starring Usher Raymond, Robert Ri'chard, Rosario Dawson, Sara Gilbert, Judd Nelson, Vanessa L. Williams

Directed by Craig Bolotin

Released by Fox 2000 Pictures

Rated R (language, violence)

Running time 98 minutes

Sun score: ***

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