Owen Gleiberman
November 19, 1999 AT 05:00 AM EST

Light It Up

Current Status
In Season
Judd Nelson, Usher
Craig Bolotin

We gave it a F

At Lincoln High School, a crumbling, impoverished institution deep in the heart of Queens, N.Y. (forget textbooks—the place doesn’t have heat), a noble and beloved teacher, played by former delinquent role model Judd Nelson, is unjustly suspended, touching off a skirmish that escalates into a violent student sit-in. Usher Raymond, the squinty pop star, plays Lester, leader of the disaffected rebels. As an actor, Raymond is whiny and annoying, but not nearly so much as the film, which wants to be Dog Day Afternoon meets The Breakfast Club and would have been excruciating even if it had succeeded.

Shot in a doomy, glossy style that transforms inner-city school corridors into hallways of lost destiny, Light It Up is one of those jaw-droppingly bogus up-against-the-system message movies in which crowds of angry student protesters gather outside the school with placards that read ”Free the Lincoln 6.” Lester, staring at the officer (Forest Whitaker) who has been shot in the leg and taken hostage, delivers the coup de grace when he says, ”The first 10 minutes, you made up in your mind who we were!” Actually, the film made up its mind in the first 10 seconds. F

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