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cast: Trevor Fehrman, Elden Henson, Matthew Lawrence, Mary Tyler Moore and Griffin Dunne

director: Andrew Gurland

86 minutes (12) 2002 EV VHS rental
Also available to rent on DVD

RATING: 6/10
reviewed by John Percival
Four high school friends have turned cheating into an art form. Handsome (Trevor Fehrman) is the badly named but charismatic and slippery ringleader. With Sammy (Elden Henson), Handsome's friend since kindergarten, Victor the angry everything hater and Applebee who can write "crazy small" for the crib sheets, they are the crack team who will lie and steal in order to cheat their way through any academic test. They have been doing it all through school and now their final year brings greater tests to their ingenuity and a wondering whether it might actually be better to study if the first place.
   This film wants to be Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986) so bad it hurts; it has the charming resourceful lead and his slightly dopey cohort who is ultimately the lead's conscience. It even has the ropey voiceover from Handsome but feels more Bugsy Malone than Bueller. Here we have the usual stylised view of American high school life, which has each stereotype from the Principal (Mary Tyler Moore) to the college jock very vividly defined. Geeks are even looked upon favourably in the form of Applebee and his imperfect manhood. For some reason in these films, when the female students huddle together to discuss reporting the cheaters' plans they always meet in the female locker room, wearing only their underwear.
   The cheating team care very little about school, they have no qualms about tormenting either a teacher by acting gay or an immigrant caretaker by giving their names as the names of old presidents but, oddly, they are very concerned about getting into a good university, and getting caught and getting a bad mark proves too much for some of the team.
   What is funny is just how clever they think they are and how cheating has turned them into heroes but it is really an addiction which some find easier to shake. It appears as though proper 'grown-up' life is transferred into the teenage environment, they discuss their next scheme playing pool and sitting at a 'soft' bar like gangsters.
   The movie does touch on certain serious subjects like students with behavioural problems, but these are drowned under a torrent of childish jokes. In fact if you imagine there is a moral about not cheating in school, it is hard to find, as Handsome cheats to the end and burns a teacher's grade-book. He is unrepentant but does summer school for a punishment. It shows how bored rich American kids are unchallenged by school.
   The humour is very extremely childish in places with most of it revolving around the toilet or silly sexual references but there are also some very funny moments. It really does try to be inventive but lacks the class and snappy dialogue of Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Cheats is not going to be a legend but it is a fun movie to watch one afternoon.

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