Director Richard Linklater, best known for his intellectually challenging art-house films (Waking Life, Before Sunrise), finds himself #1 at the box office this week with his most formulaic and commercial endeavor, The School of Rock. It's admittedly a predictable lowbrow comedy, but a surprisingly enjoyable one, thanks especially to the starmaking turn by Jack Black.

Obnoxious and reckless, Black belongs among the ranks of the most manic comedians. While he lacks Robin Williams' sophisticated wit and Jim Carrey's versatile range of expression, he shares their boisterous stage manner, and like John Belushi, he can also rock-and-roll. (During his offscreen hours Black plays gigs in a band called Tenacious D.) Director Stephen Frears knew enough to cast Black as a record-store know-it-all in High Fidelity, but Linklater has custom-made School to exhibit Black's passion for heavy metal from trivia to performance. He may have been confined to small supporting roles in Bob Roberts, Dead Man Walking, Waterworld, and Orange County, but this time Jack is ready for the spotlight, guitar in hand.

Fortunately for moviegoers, and despite Black's reputation as a comedy anarchist, the movie has a big heart, avoids crude indulgence, and gives viewers of all ages something to enjoy. Even religious press critics are moshing with the enthusiastic mainstream critics—most of them, anyway.

Black plays Dewey Finn, a heavy-metal-rock-star-wannabe. The film opens as Dewey is kicked out of his band. Hurt and fuming, he trudges home, only to receive an eviction notice from his roommate, a substitute schoolteacher named Ned (Linklater's co-writer, Mike White). Needing money, Dewey gets desperate and answers a call intended for his roommate. Before he ...

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