Picks and Pans Review: Back to School

updated 07/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/21/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

These are perilous times for American culture. Rodney Dangerfield has become convinced that he can act. Maybe it was the box office success of his films Caddyshack and Easy Money. Maybe it was the director of this movie, Alan Metter, whose biggest previous credit was a Dangerfield music video. In any case, Dangerfield doesn't just do his goggle-eyed, collar-pulling shtik in Back to School. He emotes. He plays serious scenes involving paternal pride, social-class differences, bitterness. He seduces Sally Kellerman. He even, heaven help us, quotes from Dylan Thomas. Donald Duck would have about as much chance of pulling off "Do not go gentle into that good night" as Dangerfield does, and Don is easily the better actor. Thankfully most of the film is played for laughs. Danger-field does his self-deprecating bit as a prosperous businessman who goes to college to set a good example for his son, an aspiring dropout. A squad of writers, including Harold (Ghostbusters) Ramis, provided Dangerfield with volleys of punch lines. A few hit, such as one about Dangerfield's wife (played by Adrienne Barbeau in a surly fashion). The wife, Dangerfield says, is so self-involved "when we make love, she calls out her own name." Most of the jokes though are older than the sacks under Rodney's eyes. He says, for instance, that he used to date an English teacher: "I wrote her love letters, and she corrected them." Though Dangerfield's lusting after coeds pushes the bounds of good taste (he ends up with Kellerman, one of his professors), this is hardly the most offensive campus comedy of all time. Keith (Christine) Gordon as Dangerfield's son and newcomer Terry Farrell as the son's dream girl are appealing. Ned Beatty has a great time portraying the college's unprincipled administrator, "Dean Martin." Still, this is at best a flyweight summer movie. It is not—repeat not—Rodney, a warm-up for King Lear. (PG-13)

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