Rushmore
***.5 GM
Starring: Jason Schwartzman, Olivia Williams, Bill Murray, Mason Gamble,

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"Rushmore" is a weird little comedy that seems to have a lot of 'weird for weirdness' sake' stuff that, more often than not, amuses the doody out of me. Throw Bill Murray into the mix, and you've got yourself a winner.

Max (Jason Schwartzman) is a 15-year-old genius of some sort that is obsessed with Rushmore Academy - so much so that he fails every class in order to assure that he stays in the academy for as long as possible. He forms all sorts of insane, obscure extracurricular clubs, writes ridiculously ambitious high school plays and has a pledge kid (Mason Gamble) that follows him around like a loyal subordinate. His hero is Mr. Blume (Bill Murray), a distinguished alumnus of the academy that happens to have two annoying thug sons, a worthless marriage and a deep self-loathing. When they both begin to fixate on Miss Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams), a teacher of youngsters at the school, war between them erupts and high comic weirdness ensues.

This film is hard to describe. We're tempted to think that Miss Cross would be utterly annoyed and filled with rage at Max's unbelievably snotty behavior, but we have to remember that this is a teenager developing an obsession with a teacher - and the best teachers don't want to give up on kids with problems. The story resonates with the social outcasts who view themselves as visionaries rather than the traditional self-loathing losers that most everyone assumes they're supposed to be. Max is Max and he doesn't give a damn who doesn't like him - chances are he loathes them even more. This is why Herman Blume is so drawn to him. Usually, the story is that some lost young soul is desperate for a father figure. Here, the lost old soul is looking for a decent son figure. He sees this kid who is everything he'd like to be - aggressive, confident, completely sure of himself even when he doesn't really have reason to be. It's a good twist and it's fun to watch play out.

Schwartzman does a good job of playing a nerd that doesn't know he's a nerd, and thus ISN'T a nerd. In fact, the sports-loving weasel Blume kids are the boring undesireables, and Max is a constant blur of activity and ideas - crackpot they may be - that is always interesting to follow. Oscar buzz was swarming around Bill Murray for a while there, but even though I'd love to see that guy win one, I don't know if he should have been there. This film was a lot more enjoyable than "A Civil Action," though, so I'd rather see Bill there than Robert Duvall.

The movie makes its points in a subtle way, so most folks are likely to just see a ridiculous brat and a weird old guy fighting over a Brit and think it's dumb. There are plenty of different levels on which to enjoy the film, though, and it even gets better upon reflection. It's a "strange animal," as the catch phrase goes, but it's one worth domesticating.

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