Remember when Brad Pitt made an ’80s teen slasher movie?
Despite the potential embarrassment a question like that brings, Pitt has nothing to be ashamed of. The film in question, “Cutting Class,” is indeed a hall of fame stinker and probably the worst thing he’s ever been in. On the other hand, Pitt is a blast to watch, even in this.
Here is one of those glorious movies where, the worse it gets, the more entertaining and unhinged it becomes.
It begins with a montage of a young paperboy tossing daily gazettes at passing homes -- immediately, everything feels off. Sometimes the wrapped papers hit the pavement with an ominous, thundering thud and sometimes not at all.
Then there’s the song blaring on the soundtrack, which closely resembles “Good Man (in a Bad Time)” from the “Fright Night.” If nothing else, the film pulled me in by trying so hard to grab my attention.
Jill Schoelen stars as Paula, a high schooler whose boyfriend Dwight (Pitt) is incensed at her for agreeing to be a sitting model for her art class. A far bigger issue is that a classmate who was recently incarcerated in an asylum (Donavan Leitch Jr.) is now back in school and obsessed with Paula. When a body count starts to pile up, everyone becomes a suspect.
Is it the principal? The unsettling janitor? Or is it Dwight?
The tone established is that of a silly ’80s comedy, which is reinforced once Martin Mull enters the film in the first scene; Mull is playing Paula’s hunter father. We know this because an outdoorsman/camo attire is all Mull wears in the movie, as his extended cameo was probably shot in two days, tops.
Later, In Pitt’s first scene, he’s speeding in the suburbs, nearly hits a child with his car, jokingly shrugs it off and peels out. The mother cuddles her child, who was nearly run over by the future star of “Seven Years in Tibet.”
The moment is played for laughs. I think.
From the start, “Cutting Class” is all over the place. The editing lacks rhythm, as scene changes don’t come across like story/character progression as much as channel surfing. While the filmmaking is to blame for incompetence, there’s also the actors, who not only range in ability but don’t all seem to be performing in the same movie.
Take the actor playing the chemistry teacher (I’ll save him the embarrassment of naming him). He’s giving a performance that’s appropriate for a broad teen sex comedy, ala “Revenge of the Nerds” or “Porky’s II: The Next Day,” not a “Prom Night” ripoff.
In the same way, the late, great Roddy McDowell is playing the amorous principal (undoubtedly the horniest character in the film) and giving the kind of shamelessly hammy turn that would be a highlight in a smart movie but is another thespian indignity here.
A leering cameraman matches the ickiness of McDowell’s character.
None of the talent involved seemed to be on the same page, as the performances, presentation and even the art direction is dissimilar.
The end result isn’t scary, sexy or suspenseful, as a general teen slasher milieu is intercepted by a comedy so juvenile, it’s almost a children’s film, were it not so relentlessly sleazy.
There’s exactly one scene that works as intended: the cheers during a high school basketball game drown out the screams of a murder taking place beneath the bleachers. Even here the scene is out of place, both for its intensity (which dissipates as soon as it ends) and level of competence otherwise missing from the rest of the movie.
FAST FACT: “Cutting Class” co-star Jill Schoelen admitted after the fact she initially didn’t want to star in the slasher dud.
“Cutting Class” is, in a word, wacky. This is truly a lunatic bungle of a movie, in which the intentionally funny moments are embarrassing, and the unintentionally funny bits occur on a scene-to-scene basis. It’s a terrible film but, as far as so-bad-they’re-good attractions go, also genuinely hilarious.
Presumably debut director Rospo Pallenberg (who wrote John Boorman’s “The Emerald Forest”) was uncomfortable making a teen slasher movie and intended to invest as much humor as possible. He wound up making a horror film so snarky, it accidentally comes across like a “Serial Mom”-era John Waters film, only Waters never made a movie this bad.
The 1980’s horror movie tropes are all here.
There’s a creepy janitor who lurks around the school like “The Toxic Avenger” in mid-transformation. All the students look like college seniors, there’s a typical hint of homophobia (an art teacher is killed off early) and, trendily, one victim is Xeroxed to death.
There’s also a lot of unintended comedy gold out of the name “Mrs. Knocht,” which (I think) the actors mispronounce.
Bizarrely, the film keeps returning to Mull, whose character is literally lost in the wilderness, despite being a few yards away from teens (including his daughter) during a field trip.
It plays more dreamlike than funny.
To be overly technical, this is Pitt’s first starring role. His true debut as a lead, “The Dark Side of the Sun,” was filmed in 1988 but, after years of being neglected in a warehouse, received a straight-to-video release in 1997 to capitalize on Pitt’s stardom.
“Cutting Class,” which received a short-lived theatrical release, was his first major role to receive wide circulation.
Pitt is third billed here, but the filmmakers were wise enough to realize he’s clearly a leading man. This is a mild spoiler, but Pitt’s character makes it to the end of the third act, which surprises, since, again, he nearly committed vehicular manslaughter (and gleefully at that) in his introduction.
Watching Pitt play a dumb jock boyfriend in a movie of this caliber is gift; the movie is an abomination but he’s really trying for conviction. Unlike Kevin Bacon in “Friday the 13th” or frequent co-star George Clooney in “Return to Horror High,” Pitt gives a feature-length illustration that, while he may not have been on the A-list yet, he was clearly just a few movies away.
There’s a scene here where Pitt gets very upset while taking a call on a payphone. It’s a long way from a similar scene that got him an Oscar nomination in “Babel.” Likewise, watch him try and fail to make putting a straw in a plastic cup look cool.
Considering how Pitt is not only a huge movie star but also one of our best film actors, seeing him here is akin to watching him in a clunky grade school play. It’s especially funny because he’s trying to make an impossible situation work and this is clearly an experience that he long ago surpassed and learned from.
Also worthy of mention is the scene where Pitt gets what is probably one of the best triple F-bombs in cinema history. “Cutting Class” is hard to defend as art, or even bad art, but its funnier than any intentional comedy I’ve seen this year.