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Trippin'

Director: David Hubbard
Cast: Deon Richmond, Donald Adeosun Faison, Maia Campbell, Guy Torry, Aloma Wright

(Rogue Pictures; 1999)

He's Got Everything

Trippin’ opens with an impressively choreographed song and dance number, carefully emulating a Hype Williams rap video. Player’s in his big white house, laying on his big white bed, surrounded by big-breasted girls in skimpy bikinis. He’s got the silky sheets, the toasty fireplace, the well-stocked liquor cabinet, the styling sunglasses, the slow motion sways and pelvic thrusts. The girls look straight at the camera, smile so sweetly, and sing so soulfully, “He’s got everything!”


Indeed, it appears so. Until the alarm clock rings and he’s got to get up. Turns out that our man G (Deon Richmond) is just your average high school senior, late for breakfast again, getting yelled at by his mom. Then again, the “average” student in high school movies is usually not. That is, in the formula milked dry by John Hughes and his ilk, the protagonist(s) may look plain or nerdy or jock-like or otherwise unexceptional, but in truth, he or she is special. No matter how shy, awkward, thuggish, dull, or ugly the surface, the exceptional self is the true one looking to be released on the occasion of that certain event — the perfect prom date, the perfect endzone catch, the perfect school play performance, the perfect escape from a serial killer’s humungo knife.


From American Graffiti to The Breakfast Club, from Heathers to Scream, from Varsity Blues to Jawbreaker to She’s All That, most high school movies run the same basic plot, evoke the same basic fears, and make the same basic point: high school sucks.


Most folks can empathize that far. But most high school movie protagonists don’t resemble you at all, unless you’re white, straight and male, someone like James Dean, Judd Nelson, Ferris Bueller, James Van Der Beek, or Tom Cruise in his underwear. Sometimes the hero is a white girl — Molly Ringwald or Carrie, for instance — but they’re usually looking to get with the white boy. The other kids, the ones who show up in Cooley High, Stand and Deliver, or Girlstown, are the exceptions that prove the rule: for these characters, the climax is not the prom or the big game, it’s graduating at all, supporting the family, or surviving rape.


Trippin’, the first feature for writer Gary Hardwick and director David Hubbard (whose resume includes acting in James at 15, CHiPs, and Knight Rider, meaning that he’s paid some serious dues) has a somewhat different take on the high school movie, namely, black.


Not that high school movies haven’t included black characters or done the House Part scheme to death. But Trippin’ tries to make the white cliches more egalitarian, such that G’s daydreams of success include himself as the record mogul, the Terminator, and the college boy getting all the booty he can handle. This device has its ups and downs. G is a charismatic, intelligent protagonist, confused enough by the rigors of high school social life that most everyone might recognize his dilemmas. When he’s not home getting badgered by his parents (Aloma Wright and Harold Sylvester) to get his college applications sent out, he’s hanging with his two-man crew, June (Donald Faison, a.k.a., Dion/Stacey Dash’s boyfriend in Clueless) and Fish (Guy Torry). Fish is a wannabe Spike Lee, never without his video camera, and June is on the brink of hood movie second-lead-dom, the sorry-ass nice kid who tries to short-cut his way to major cash, with a scheme that gets him and his friends into deep shit.


While his homeboys are generally scoping out the girls on campus, G only has eyes for one, the future prom queen and utterly unattainable Cinny (Maia Campbell). You can imagine the plot from here: G’s attempts to woo Cinny are at first rebuffed by her muscle-head boyfriend, then allowed as long as they’re “just friends,” and eventually lead to full-blown romance. And then, inevitably, his single mistake — a lie he tells her early in the relationship — comes back to haunt him and a showdown must be had (at the prom, but of course). In the midst of his sentimental commotion, G has to deal with June’s wannabe thug-life crisis. Because he’s loyal and clever, G gets them out of this way-too predictable confrontation with the bad guys (this would be the Master P plot device, wherein homeboys outwit the big time criminals, including a corny bit in a warehouse).


G’s a pleasant kid, polite and all, but the film tries a little too hard to cross Boyz N the Hood with Keenen & Kel, to offer positive endings with rib-poke jokes (the kid gets into college and gets with the girl) along with standard body-functions humor (say, in the person of G’s cranky grandfather, played by Bill Henderson, reduced to embodying punch lines about old age and eating bacon). The disappointment is that the occasional insights into teen anxieties and aspirations aren’t so far off, but the hijinks are tired: you’ve seen them in too many other high school movies.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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