A scene from 'Light It Up'
Courtesy Photo
** stars 100 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, November 10, 1999
Directed by Craig Bolotin

Starring Usher Raymond, Forest Whitaker, Rosario Dawson, Vanessa L. Williams, Robert Ri'chard, Judd Nelson, Fredro Starr, Sara Gilbert, Clifton Collins, Jr., Glynn Turman & Vic Polizos


Kids going to rotting inner-city high schools might identify with this fantasy empowerment-and-concequences flick, but anyone else will wish they'd rented another movie. However, it won't lose much in transition to the small screen.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 6/13/2000

Usher Raymond:
"She's All That" (1999)
"The Faculty" (1998)

Forest Whitaker:
"Phenomenon" (1996)

Vanessa L. Willimas:
"...Elmo In Grouchland" (1999)
"Dance With Me" (1998)

Clifton Collins, Jr.:
"The Replacement Killers" (1998)
"187" (1997)

Sara Gilbert:
"Desert Blue" (1999)

Emotions run high in 'Light It Up,' but high school stand-off is pure paint-by-numbers

By Rob Blackwelder

There is not a single original thought in "Light It Up," a ghetto-transplanted, hostage-situation "Breakfast Club" in which a mathematically diverse group of teenagers are trapped in their high school, keeping a lone authority figure under siege in the name of getting a little respect.

Written and directed by "Black Rain"-scripter Craig Bolotin, it pilfers its urban angst high school air from "Lean On Me," "187" and other good kids-bad school movies. Its paint-by-numbers plot points are lifted from hostage flicks like "Dog Day Afternoon" and "The Negotiator."

The plot: After a scuffle that ends with the on-campus cop (Forest Whitaker) getting shot in the leg, six students take over the school, holding the cop hostage and demanding improvements to their learning environment like books for every student and window repairs.

The kids: Lester (R&B singer Usher Raymond), who hates cops because one killed his unarmed dad. Ziggy (Robert Ri'chard -- what's with that apostrophe?), the artistic one whose father beats him. Lynn, (Sara Gilbert), the punky, acrid, pregnant school skank. Stephanie (Rosario Dawson), the pretty, Puerto Rican A-student and the group's voice of reason. Junior Willem Defoe look-alike Clifton Collins, Jr. as the wise-cracking white boy, and Fredro Starr as the loose cannon gang-banger who's just itching to ice their hostage.

These young actors all give respectable performances of agitation, inner turmoil and bewilderment, especially given that they're stuck playing warmed-over stereotypes. They alone keep "Light It Up" from becoming ridiculous -- even when Vanessa L. Williams turns up in the hard-to-buy role of a police negotiator.

With its predictable course of events -- including the kids being maligned in the press and beseeched by their One Teacher Who Cares (Judd Nelson) -- and its lapses in logic -- the cops pass up easy opportunities to tear gas these in-over-their-heads kids and take the school back -- "Light It Up" leaves the audience little to do but place bets on which kid(s) is(are) going to die.

Bolotin just chooses his most poignant martyr(s) and decided on a way to off him/her/them, paying little regard to the absurdity of the circumstances under which the inevitable takes place.


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