There’s only one thing more frightening than murder…high school.
Here’s another one of Lionsgate’s “Lost Collection” releases, made up of 1980s cheese that used to have high rotation on cable, but haven’t been seen as much in recent years. Two in this series feature a young Jon Cryer, who was riding high at the time off his success in Pretty in Pink. In Hiding Out, Cryer returns to high school in a different way, this time in a fish-out-of-water comedy.
Andrew Morenski (Cryer) is a stockbroker who has gotten involved with some not-so-scrupulous people and their not-so-scrupulous schemes. When an attempt is made on his life while under police protection, Morenski ends up all alone, on the run. Through a series of misunderstandings and comedically-timed coincidences, Morenski is mistaken as a teenager in his distant cousin’s high school. Renaming himself “Maxwell Hauser”—he got the idea from a coffee can—Morenski hides out at school, with his nerdy cousin as his only confidante. Morenski starts to enjoy his new life, even finding romance with a wise-beyond-her-years classmate (Annabeth Gish, The X-Files), and snagging a nomination for student body president. Unfortunately for him, those gun-toting baddies are not giving up on their search.
Hiding Out is sort of a dark mirror of 21 Jump Street. That series was about cops pretending to be high schools students, while Hiding Out is about a crook pretending to be a student. Or, at least, a suspected crook. Actually, I’m still a little lost of the specifics of the crime portion of the story. The bad guys want Morenski dead so he won’t testify, and this is why he hides, but what this information is—and what role Morenski played in whatever the crime was—is unclear. The exposition is hurried through at the start of the film, merely to kick start the rest of the plot. The crime exists only to get Morenski into the high school, where the fun stuff is.
The filmmakers are clearly shooting for the same type of slightly exaggerated reality that exists in the classic ’80s teen flicks by John Hughes, but that tone, combining slice of life with cartoony outrageousness, is a hard one to capture. The high school of Hiding Out features what appears to be a lot of weirdness for weirdness’ sake. A sex education class emphasizes homosexuality, just so there can be a silly “one guy mistakes another for being gay” joke. A history teacher adamantly defends Richard M. Nixon, calling him a great president, which seems unlikely, but it’s only so Morenski can “talk the talk” because he has a different perspective, being old enough, apparently, to have remembered the Nixon presidency for himself.
Morenski is kind of a hard character to figure out. When he is initially mistaken for a teenager, he plays along with it for a laugh, and then turns it into a viable hiding place. Once he’s in high school mode, Morenski becomes a total free spirit. Part of this is because he’s far enough removed from that life that teachers, homework, bullies, etc., can’t faze him. This attitude makes him an instant hit around campus, leading to his getting roped into running for student office. It’s just that this jump from frightened fugitive to carefree jokester comes nearly out of nowhere. Maybe this is because we don’t see enough of him before he starts his new life. In a story like this, you’d think the character arc would be that he starts out all serious but then learns to be young again thanks to the high school life. Or, perhaps more interestingly, the character could start out as a goofball who takes nothing seriously, but then discovers what’s important to him by going back to school. As it is now, though, there isn’t enough of either element to show how—or if—he changes through the course of the story.
How’s the comedy? It’s mostly a gentle sense of humor. The best bits are reserved for Morenski’s geeky cousin Patrick (Keith Coogan, Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead). His attempts at learning to drive provide some vehicular slapstick, and his first date with a girl is filled with hilarious awkwardness. Cryer gets to do some Ferris Bueller-style shtick when messing with the school intercom, and an early encounter between him and a bum is another winner.
Then there’s the romance. Is it creepy, awful, and wrong that there’s a love story between an older man and a high school girl? The movie certainly walks a line. Morenski makes a point of keeping the relationship non-physical, and yet, the relationship is still there. Part of me thinks that if this is what the story demands, then why not? But then the other part of me wonders why he couldn’t have fallen for some mid-20s just-out-of-college teacher instead. It’s the kind of issue where whether it works for you depends on what you bring to it.
Unlike some others in the “Lost Collection,” Hiding Out is presented in its original widescreen with 5.1 sound, and there are no complaints about either. The main bonus feature is a subtitle trivia track, presented in a quiz style, in which it presents a question, and then gives you the answer a minute or two later. It’s amusing, but not as informative as it could be. The original theatrical trailer is also included.
Hiding Out is not a classic in the high school comedy genre, but it’s amusing enough to stand on its own, especially for those seeking another ’80s nostalgia trip.