Promedio Rojo at LA Film Festival

Jocks and babes may rule the school, but in 'Promedio Rojo' the fat kid laughs last. The feature debut from Chilean writer/director Nicoles Lopez, 'Promedio Rojo' is a smorgasbord of poached pieces from pop cinema, tied together by comic book fantasies, gallows humor and a refreshing willingness to push beyond the phallus and flatulence jokes into something far more interesting. Think John Hughes films re-imagined through the eyes of an overweight comic book geek weaned on sequels and Kevin Smith movies.

From right: Geeky trio Condoro (Nicolas Martinez), Roberto (Ariel Levy) and Papitos (Berta Muñiz)

Wasting no time getting started, Lopez kicks off the film with a whirlwind comic book style introduction to the heroes and villains of the story as told by its self-deprecating protagonist, Roberto Rodriguez (Ariel Levy) the first of many references to Lopez' myriad influences.     

Sharing the bottom rung of the high school food chain with his perverse friend Condoro (Nicolas Martinez) and oversized simpleton Papitos (a hilarious Berta Muniz, sporting a dopey grin that seems permanently affixed), Roberto's comic book and adolescent fantasy existence is shaken by the arrival of a beautiful new classmate, Christina (Xenia Tostado). Instantly smitten, Roberto embarks on a quest to save Christina from the carnal attentions of the school womanizer, battling sadistic gym teachers, demented classmates and his own social ineptitude along the way.  

Though he clearly owes much to Hughes, the Weitz brothers and the legions of other directors who've tackled the world of high school hijinks, cruel cool kids and awkward sexual encounters, Lopez brings a fresh voice to the genre. Gleefully irreverent, Lopez leaves weepy 80s kitsch back in its own decade, wearing his influences on his sleeve. An 'American Pie' style bet sets the main plot in motion, Roberto's grandfather appears as Obi Wan Kenobi to offer sex advice from the grave and the ending borrows liberally from 'Chasing Amy,' and that's just the tip of the iceberg.      

Consulting with a "dentist"

High school movies have been done so often that original plots are almost a lost cause at this point, but what makes 'Promedio Rojo' work so well is its perspective. At 22, Lopez is only a few years removed from the slings and arrows of high school, and the film recalls them through the lens of humor without devolving into nostalgia or diluting their underlying cruelty. He takes the gag inducing cliched declarations of teenage love and literally soaks them in vomit, delivering some of the film's most poignant and emotionally affecting moments in the guise of vulgar comedy and superhero fantasies.

The pacing feels a bit slow at times, and an extra trip to the editing room might have saved us from having to watch Roberto trip and fall so often on screen the clumsy fat kid routine is only funny so many times but between the slew of rapid fire pop cultural references and comic book flights of fancy, Lopez never lets the lulls last long.

Roberto (center) tries to make an impression on Christina (Xenia Tostado) while his friends look on.

There's always another outrageous moment to dive into, and from off-color jokes about teenage pregnancies and sleazy abortionists to a mildly retarded man-child engaging in sadomasochism games with a teacher and the school nurse, everything is fair game in Lopez' world. 'Promedio Rojo' is the work of a 22-year-old given carte blanche to mine the traumas of high school for their full comedic potential. Refusing to pull punches or restrain from countless flights into geekdom (Boba Fett making out with another Star Wars soldier is just one example), Lopez has crafted a crowd-pleaser that's funny but surprisingly sincere. He may not have Smith's ear for witty dialogue, but he makes up for it with his visual prowess, aided by a trio of cinematographers who share his shiny pop sensibilities, painting the film in vibrant comic colors. Hilarious and uncompromising, 'Promedio Rojo' marks an impressive debut for its young director, a triumphantly offensive ode to geeks, underdogs and dreamers.

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