Volume 96, Issue 60
Thursday, January 16, 2003

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Outside the Box: Pump Up the Volume (1990)

By Maggie Wrobel
Gazette Staff

Pump Up the Volume (1990)
Starring: Christian Slater, Samantha Mathis, Andy Romano
Directed by: Allan Moyle

Everybody knows that the 1980s was a decade of excess, neon and bad dance music. However, it was also a decade that was instrumental in developing a new film genre: the teen angst comedy.

Films such as Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club told the tales of young people who tried to find their place in a world, with strict social rules and invisible lines drawn between different economic classes. These films were distinctive because they told their relevant stories with sympathy and humour – and also managed to make bona fide celebrities of their young stars.

Allan Moyle's Pump Up the Volume was released at the tail-end of the teen angst comedy boom. This means, that while the film maintains some of the elements of this genre, it also puts its own rebellious spin on the average "coming of age" story.

Christian Slater plays Mark Hunter, a socially awkward, yet hyper-intelligent, high school student whose parents make him move from the East Coast to Arizona in his last year before graduation. Moving halfway across the country in senior year would be disastrous for someone with a big social circle, but Mark's extreme shyness keeps him from making friends anyway, so the move is not a big deal to him.

It is only when he's alone in his room in the basement that Mark can truly let go and become the person he's hiding from everyone: Hard Harry.

Hard Harry is the name Mark gives himself after he creates a pirate radio station in his basement and broadcasts his raunchy social commentary and steamy song selections all over the local airwaves.

His controversial show quickly becomes a hit, especially when he begins taking phone calls from local kids, many of whom are his own unassuming classmates who have no clue about his true identity. The show gains even more notoriety after he openly blasts the administrators of his high school, where, ironically enough, his dad (Scott Paulin) is the superintendent.

Soon, everyone (including Mark's own parents) is eager to find out Hard Harry's true identity, though everyone has their own reasons for wanting to know who he is. This hunt for Harry's identity soon escalates and spins out of control, with Mark talking himself into a corner until the film's explosive conclusion.

Slater gives a sensitive and sexy performance as Mark, playing the character's shy and charming sides with equal ease and skill. He is well-matched by Samantha Mathis (American Psycho), who plays his seductive love interest Nora.

The film's plot is enticing and exciting from start to finish, and the witty dialogue thankfully discards any faux teenage slang. In short, Pump Up the Volume is an intelligent and fascinating film worth checking out, as its fiery individuality is just as relevant and entertaining today as it was in 1990.

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