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Jr. Varsity Blues

[whitespace] Rushmore
Van Redin

The Student Prince: Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) is the B.M.O.C. of Rushmore Academy.

No matter how clever, a 14-year-old is still 14 years old

By Richard von Busack

TEENAGE Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) is the perfect adolescent hero for the new comedy Rushmore. He's a prodigy, a go-getter--the bespectacled, bow-tied modern equivalent of a Harold Lloyd character. Max is a lord at his prestigious boys' school, Rushmore. But Max is so swamped with extracurricular activities that he's on the verge of flunking out. While Max deals with this educational crisis, he meets Herman Blume (Bill Murray), a self-made millionaire alienated from his children. Max wiggles his way into Herman's confidence, but then the two end up as rivals for the attentions of a widowed first-grade teacher, Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams).

Murray was always the smartest comic that Saturday Night Live ever produced, and the smallest little flicks of his pouchy eyes are pregnant with meaning. But Blume is a poorly written character--a Vietnam vet who ought to know something of the world and yet somehow doesn't suss Max out as the snow-job artist that he is. Director/co-writer Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket) has a dry wit, as in Max's comment about a neurosurgeon, "Personally, I could never imagine cutting open someone's brains, but he seems to enjoy it." And Anderson landed some interesting locations, using the suburbs of Houston in a way that makes them look like the shabbier parts of New England. The soundtrack assembled by Randy Poster is a trove of obscure '60s English rock, with original music supplied by Mark Mothersbaugh of Devo.

But it's hard to recommend Rushmore without caveats, and impossible to celebrate it as some critics have been doing. The shapelessness of the last 45 minutes is very frustrating; the picture goes in every possible direction, and elements of tragedy, repentance and slapstick succeed one another. Blume, who supposedly was to be the man to lead Max into a sort of sanity, instead just sits back and marvels at the boy wonder. It's said that the most sought-after movie audience today consists of 14-year-old males. Thus, Rushmore fits a niche: it's just right for intelligent 14-year-olds who'd be alienated by the standard 14-year-old fare such as Varsity Blues or The Waterboy. But if you're older than that magic number, Rushmore seems no more than a clever oddity.

Rushmore (R; 105 min.), directed by Wes Anderson, written by Owen Wilson and Anderson, photographed by Robert Yeoman and starring Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Olivia Williams.

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From the February 11-17, 1999 issue of Metro.

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