Up the Academy (1980)
After the unprecedented success of National Lampoon’s Animal House, it seemed only natural that the nation’s other most influential comedy magazine of the period would get into the movie game as well.
Unfortunately for the usual gang of idiots at Mad, the result wasn’t nearly as financially rewarding. In fact, the Mad men were so disappointed with the way Up the Academy turned out, they eventually took the Mad Magazine Presents out of the title and disavowed any association with the film — instantly turning Alfred E. Neuman’s cameo into a strange non sequitur.
In retrospect, though, you have to wonder how they ever thought hiring the iconoclastic filmmaker Robert Downey could have ever resulted in a successful mainstream comedy. Best known (aside from siring the future star of Iron Man) for his cult masterpiece, Putney Swope, Downey Sr. was an auteur whose gifts pretty obviously didn’t extend to the creation of a sophomoric teen comedy (or at least one that could actually be appreciated by its intended audience).
Sloppy, deliberately offensive (the film’s casual jokes about race and teen pregnancy seem especially shocking today) and almost angrily broad, the film plays less like an actual movie than a feature-length version of one of Swope’s infamous commercial satires. But then at the same time, it also feels strangely restrained for a film supposedly inspired by the anarchic spirit of Mad (a spirit much better exemplified onscreen that same year in Airplane!).
For this reason, Up the Academy is one of those films I personally find interesting even though it clearly fails on all of the levels by which it should be judged. An experiment gone hopelessly awry, it’s one of those strange projects that should be viewed if only because it somehow manages to exist even though it probably shouldn’t.
And it has an awesome soundtrack. —Allan Mott