80s Odyssey: Three O’Clock High (1987)

My pal Jim Gibbons asked me on twitter what some of my favorie summer movies were. That sent me to my 80s Odyssey posts, which made me want to watch another 80s movie. I hopped on Netflix and came across Three O’Clock High, a movie about a guy who runs afoul of a bully who wants to fight him in the parking lot at the end of the day. Our hero Jerry tries his best to either appease the bully or get out of Dodge, but nothing works and he has to face his parking lot destiny.

What I liked most about the flick is that it does an excellent job of mixing the feel of other kinds of movies while still feeling like a high school flick. The bully’s size and focus make him feel like a slasher, Jerry’s inability to escape adds to the already present in every high school idea of imprisonment.  The final showdown also felt like a cross between a gladiator flick and a western. Heck, there’s even a heist element to the proceedings.

But, at the end of the day, the film rests on the shoulders of some very interesting characters, Jerry’s a good kid in a bad situation who gets along with his level-headed sister. The two of them have to deal with an absentminded and possibly absent mother. His friends try their best to get him out of trouble, using at least one really good method that winds up backfiring. Some of the teachers are painted in really broad strokes, especially the principal who’s a bit reminiscent of Vader from Rock and Roll High School Forever, but I think that’s a bit forgivable considering the film is told from the POV of a kid in high school who probably doesn’t feel the need to examine his teachers for subtle character beats.

There’s a lot of other bits and pieces about this film that I really liked. There are two scenes at the beginning and the end that weave through different groups of kids talking about different people. Each group operates on one story while we benefit from hearing the whole thing. There’s also an amazing scene with Jerry trying to get detention for smoking and flirting with his teacher during a book report. Legendary stuff.

The most obvious film to compare this one to is obviously My Bodyguard, but I think they’re different animals. That movie has a much different and deeper emotional center that looks at a growing relationship over a good deal of time. This one shows what happens in the one day that a kid has to deal with a bully and examines the lengths he will go to get out of it and what eventually makes him accept his fate and face his enemy. If you like one, I think you’ll like the other so give Three O’Clock High a look on Netflix Instant!


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