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SMOKING THROUGH A YEAR OF 'FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH'

Title: FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH Year: 1982 Rating: ****1/2

In one of the biggest cases of Mistaken Main Character Syndrome, the 1982 Cult Classic FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH actually hardly features first-billed, poster-laden Sean Penn as surfer/stoner Jeff Spicoli since Amy Heckerling's year-at-school movie based on Cameron Crowe's year-at-school novel's mostly about Jennifer Jason Leigh as freshman Stacy Hamilton and her cool older brother, dude-next-door Brad Hamilton... 

On almost equal footing are two thankless roles by young unknown character-actors Robert Romanus as confidently manipulative ticket-scalper Mike Damone and his geeky sidekick Brian Backer's Mark "Rat" Ratner...

Jennifer Jason Leigh as Stacy Hamilton in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH

Damone's like some talkative climber from a 1970's New York crime flick while Ratner's the perfect 1980's sex comedy shy guy: His virginity outlasts Jennifer Jason Leigh's Stacy, who he crushes madly on (and unsuccessfully dates) despite her being... by the time she's devirginized by a twenty-something and knocked-up by that snaky best friend... way out of his league, both in looks and experience... 

She starts out as the literal "American Girl" with Tom Petty's anthem blaring when the first day of school begins (on VHS the song was replaced by an instrumental track for licensing issues but Tom's back on DVD/Blu Ray) and she winds up a little too experienced... and is where these colorfully non-stop FAST TIMES, with traces of the previous decade's risque teen exploitation cinema, sporadically slows to a melodramatic, soapy pace, but never for very long...

Sean Penn and Judge Reinhold in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH

The coolest characters are Penn's ever-quotable Spicoli, whose run-ins with tough homeroom history teacher Ray Walston as Mr. Hand are the most memorable and classic; meanwhile his scenes getting high with fellow longhairs Anthony Edwards and Eric Stoltz epitomize the Regan-era's throwback stoned age... 

And Stacy's brother Brad, played by Judge Reinhold, in about the only role (from STRIPES to BEVERLY HILLS COP) where he's not an underdog by nature but through unlucky consequence, losing his girl and job right off the bat...

Robert Romanus crosses FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH

Reinhold, smoothly befitting the 1980's while also seeming built from the steadfast 1950's, makes the perfect middleman between an eclectic lot including director Heckerling's thereafter good luck charm Scott Thomson as senior dweeb Arnold, forlorn cheerleader Kelli Moroney, menacing football giant Forest Whitaker and token bombshell Phoebe Cates, Stacy's best friend and mentor (giving her iffy advice on boys like Damone's faulty get-the-girl logic to Ratner) and whose red bikini pool scene serves as a literal... climax...

Yet what really makes FAST TIMES shine are how all these kids survive the extensive year at RIDGEMONT HIGH that the audience shares in, and is perhaps the most fun had going back through the teenage ringer.

Brad's Bud Nicolas Cage then Nicolas Coppola in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Phoebe Cates in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Robert Romanus in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Robert Romanus in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH with Brian Backer
Robert Romanus in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Sean Penn and Ray Walston in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Jennifer Jason Leigh in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH with Ray Walston as Mr Hand and David Price as Desmond
Sean Penn & Anthony Edwards in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Jennifer Jason Leigh in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Robert Romanus in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Robert Romanus in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH with Brian Backer
Judge Reinhold in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Sean Penn in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Robert Romanus in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Jennifer Jason Leigh in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Sean Penn, Eric Stoltz & Anthony Edwards in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Judge Reinhold as Brad in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Sean Penn and Ray Walston in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH and Amanda Wyss
Robert Romanus in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH with Scott Thompson as Arnold
Lana Clarkson cameo (science teacher's wife) in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Sean Penn waxing poetic in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Robert Romanus in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH with Brian Backer
Brian Backer in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH withTattoo You Poster
Foreign Poster from FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Fast Times at Ridgemont High Blu Ray Signed by JUDGE REINHOLD
Nancy Wilson (Cameron Crowe's wife) in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Kill Lincoln Babe frpm FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Kelli Maroney in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Stacy and Damone doodle in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Robert Romanus in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
Robert Romanus in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH withTattoo You Poster
Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High with Bobby Burns
Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High with Scott Thomson & Bobby Burns

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