Pump Up the Volume

In Pump Up the Volume, Christian Slater plays Mark Hunter, a suburban high-school kid who entertains himself by hijacking an unused FM frequency and broadcasting every outrageous thought that enters his head. Adopting the stage name of Happy Harry Hard-On, he rails against parents, boredom, America. He talks about how there’s nothing left for his generation to believe in, and also about masturbation. At the end of his show, he even pretends he’s doing the deed — he makes lusty noises and then ”climaxes,” right on the air.

Mark fashions himself a teen Lenny Bruce — and, unfortunately, the movie does too (that’s before it turns him into a teen Christ). Slater, who’s like a ratty, self-involved Michael J. Fox, works hard to give his on-the-air rants a nihilistic charge, but most of them sound like bad Beat poetry; all that’s missing is the bongos. As it turns out, Mark is really a shy, sensitive sort, a talented writer too scared to talk to girls at school. Yet on the radio, he’s a star! The movie panders to teenagers’ most dewy fantasies of themselves as misunderstood geniuses. Then it turns around and points the accusing finger at (who else?) parents and teachers. The school principal has even masterminded a plot to expel the inferior students, so that she can keep the average SAT scores nice and high. Finally, a teen movie kids with mediocre SATs can relate to!

Under Slater’s influence, the kids start to rebel. For the first time, they let loose and go a little crazy. Yet isn’t that what rock & roll, in one form or another, has been telling kids to do for years? And isn’t that what they’ve been doing? The movie comes on like a Talk Radio for jaded adolescents, but it’s rooted in the sort of fake repressive reality that Footloose was. What the moviemakers don’t seem to realize — and what John Hughes, in Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club, did — is that so many of the pressures felt by teens in the postpunk era don’t have to do with authority figures but with the very forms of rebellion they’ve chosen for themselves: the near-cultish allegiance to music and attitude and fashion. Pump Up the Volume doesn’t get near today’s teenagers. It’s a pile of self-congratulatory youth-movie mush. C-

Pump Up the Volume
  • Movie
  • 102 minutes