Weighed down with gimmicks and special effects, a number of which are far from special, "Sky High" is best left to 10- to 14-year-olds because it's not likely to do much for older audiences and is too violent for the very young. On the plus side, it has a likable cast headed by Michael Angarano, Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston, Danielle Panabaker, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Steven Strait. Scriptwriter Paul Hernandez is a comic-book fan, and his far-fetched fantasy might have been more persuasive as an animated film.
Angarano's 14-year-old Will Stronghold lives with his loving parents (Russell and Preston) in one of those large traditional-style homes in a leafy neighborhood favored by glossy family movies. Steve and Josie Stronghold are, however, not only successful real estate agents but also superhero crime fighters, prepared to put a deal on hold on a moment's notice to don capes and tights and rush off to fight crime. As the Commander, Steve is in effect Superman, and Josie as Jetstream flies through the air at top speed. Oddly, the Strongholds' dual personalities are no secret, which gives one pause to wonder why they aren't off to Iraq or Afghanistan instead of spending so much time selling houses.
The point is that Will, a nice, normal kid, is feeling a bit intimidated by having such formidable parents when it's time for him to be whisked off by bus to his first day of school at Sky High, a secret Shangri-La-looking edifice built on an island floating high up in the sky. The bus suddenly sprouts wings and takes off at the end of a magically truncated Colorado Street Bridge. The school is especially for Heroes, those teenagers who already possess superhuman powers, and Sidekicks, those kids who have some special gifts, such as the girl who can turn herself into a rat, but don't quite make it into the ranks of Heroes.
Poor Will has yet to develop special powers of any sort and hangs with the Sidekicks, including Layla (Panabaker), whom he's known since first grade and who secretly loves him. When Will does burst through with super strength in a gladiatorial match with Strait's Warren Peace, he chafes at the jocks-and-geeks class distinctions between Heroes and Sidekicks. In the meantime, Will is immediately vamped by Gwen (Winstead), a sultry senior and student body president. That she would go after Will, still a boy, and overlook Peace, a young hunk, suggests right away that she is up to no good.
Defying credibility at every turn, "Sky High" is likely to try the patience of most adults. Director Mike Mitchell and Hernandez and his co-writers Bob Schooley and Mark McCorkle strive to bring a human dimension to an avalanche of fantastic developments, and the cast, which includes Lynda Carter and Cloris Leachman, succeeds pretty well, especially Russell, who plays the cocky Steve with tongue in cheek. But "Sky High" is too hopelessly contrived for its actors to be able to make it work.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for some action violence and some mild language
Times guidelines: Too violent for the very young
A Buena Vista release of a Walt Disney Pictures presentation of a Gunn Films production. Director Mike Mitchell. Producer Andrew Gunn. Executive producers Mario Iscovich, Ann Marie Sanderlin. Screenplay Paul Hernandez, and Bob Schooley & Mark McCorkle. Cinematographer Shelly Johnson. Editor Peter Amundson. Visual effects and animation by Asylum. Visual effects by Furious FX. Music Michael Giacchino. Costumes Michael Wilkinson. Production designer Bruce Robert Hill. Art director William Hawkins. Set decorator Robert Gould. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.In general release.