• U.S.

Cinema: City Slickers

2 minute read
Jay Cocks



Screenplay by ERIC MONTE

There is currently some noise around to the effect that Cooley High—about growing up black in Chicago in 1964—is a separate but equal American Graffiti. Such impressions should be corrected immediately. It requires a certain defensiveness, or an anxious if inadvertent condescension, to maintain that Cooley High, crude of mind and clumsy of execution, can even compete with the smart high spirits of American Graffiti.

Cooley High has all the grace of an Army training film. Like the kids in Graffiti, the students in Cooley High are trapped near the dead end of their own young lives. The difference is that the odds of escape are even heavier against the blacks. They have to fight their poverty and the everyday threat of their streets even to get a chance. The Graffiti kids never really knew they had a chance. They took their fate—and everything else—for granted, which is a different kind of tragedy. Around Cooley High, you either knuckle under or you fight back.

The movie is less concerned with these matters, however, than with making bad broad jokes: when some students play hooky and go to a Chicago zoo, a gorilla hurls his dirt onto one of them; on the run from a couple of guys looking to do him harm, one of Cooley’s brighter hopes hides out in a bathroom where a young lady sits screaming on the toilet. The movie does have two energetic performances by Glynn Turman and Lawrence-Hilton Jacobs, but they are just about overrun. One of the Cooley kids takes off for Hollywood to become a successful screenwriter and, we are informed in a Graffiti-like postscript, really makes it. He always figured he would, since he was so good at the hustle. If he is intended to represent the author of Cooley High, however, he is not quite as adept at it as he thinks.


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