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  Pump Up the Volume Teen Troubles Tackled Today
Year: 1990
Director: Allan Moyle
Stars: Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Annie Ross, Andy Romano, Scott Paulin, Mimi Kennedy, Anthony Lucero, Billy Morissette, Robert Schenkkan, Cheryl Pollak, Ellen Greene, Keith Stuart Thayer, Jeff Chamberlain, Lala Sloatman, Holly Sampson, Seth Green
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 2 votes)
Review: There's a new voice on the radio, and he's Happy Harry Hardon, or Hard Harry for short. He claims to be a student at this town's high school, but nobody really knows who he is, and that's just the way he likes it as it offers him carte blanche to say whatever he likes on his pirate station, on the air at ten every night, sometimes for five minutes and sometimes for five hours, depending on how he feels. You can contact him via his P.O. Box address, and he may well reply to your letter on the air, but quite often he'll just masturbate instead...

Well, that's what he wants you to think, because he's not really getting that carried away on the air, but he really is a student at the local school, having moved into the area recently with his parents yet having trouble making friends. In fact, he doesn't have any friends, he's Mark Hunter, played by Christian Slater and boy, does he need the internet. Pump Up the Volume was made a few short years before that particular technology took off, so if it were made today Hard Harry would be an avid blogger, or have his own podcast, or YouTube channel, but he probably wouldn't be a pirate DJ.

This leaves the modern viewer of the film in something of a quandary that can only be solved by approaching it as a period piece, which shows how fast things moved on from 1990 to ten years later. Not least because having set up its stall as the voice of Generation X, this really needed something else to complete the mix: grunge music. Mark has to make do with The Pixies and, er, Leonard Cohen, taking his inspiration from Lenny Bruce rather than Kurt Cobain instead of getting into the whole "Why bother? Oh, and stay out of my room!" attitude that would come to fruition soon enough.

If anything, the man behind this, writer and director Allan Moyle was stuck in the previous decade because Hard Harry's whole Life Sucks pattern fell to pieces the moment he tried to introduce something more serious, and oh how achingly sincere it became in its appeal to ver kids to rise up and claim the airwaves. Stop pushing us around, grown ups, said the then-fortysomething Moyle, but what he was actually aiming for was a more universal strike against injustice and the climate that saw youngsters victimised for daring to not have the chance they should in life. Later, the concern would be that they had the chances but were not motivated to take them, but here there was a whiff of 1960s radical about it.

If there was anyone we could support in 1990 it was Christian Slater, then shaping up to be his generation's Jack Nicholson, maybe hard to believe now but look at him then and you would see the promise. He spends about half the movie talking alone in Mark's bedroom, trying to make sense of this crazy world, but the feeling of trying to take the mantle of James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause never quite left his performance, or the writing. Imagine if Dean had been a talk radio DJ! Er, yeah, maybe not the greatest idea, but the novelty of Moyle's concept carried it through the scenes where he wanted to reach out to an audience suffering under parents who didn't understand and teachers who were hardline and didn't want to understand (Ellen Greene appeared as the obligatory nice tutor who did). Luckily, Mark had Samantha Mathis as a fellow teen who works out his secret to help him through, would that every loner had the same, yet the big finale that sees them make a stand was the least convincing moment. At least he got to use his catchphrase at the end. Music by Cliff Martinez.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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