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MOVIE REVIEW : 'Pat' Evokes School Days of the '50s

July 10, 1992|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Robert and Halle Brooks' affectionate and painstaking "Who Shot Pat?" (at the Monica 4-Plex) takes us back to the 1957 spring semester of a Brooklyn vocational high school. It is a classic coming-of-age saga, centering on a popular youth Bic Bickham (David Knight) and his pals. They're regular guys, obstreperous and prankish, and the scrapes they get into are of a fairly routine nature, exaggerated a bit for comic effect. They're hardly serious as students, but as much as they buck authority, giving their teachers a hard time, they ultimately respect it.

In their feature debut, the Brookses--he directs, she produces, they collaborate in the writing--have given themselves a sizable challenge, not helped by their film's inept and misleading title, in that the terrain is so familiar and has been covered so well before, starting with the far more serious "Blackboard Jungle" and including the more similar "Lords of Flatbush." The Brookses' contribution to the genre lies in their ability to evoke a vanished era of near-innocence before many such schools became overrun with drugs and violence while foreshadowing a bleaker future.

Rightly eschewing tight plotting, "Who Shot Pat?" proceeds from incident to incident as it captures the everyday life of its young people. Some of these incidents, one racial, another with intimations of gang warfare, contain the potential to explode into dangerous events; the effect is to leave us with the feeling that if they were taking place in the present they would not nearly be so easily defused.

Many who went to inner-city high schools in the '50s can attest that the Brookses are accurate in their presentation of a largely benign, albeit transitional, period in race relations. At that time white kids could get to know young people of many racial and ethnic backgrounds--that is, until their parents panicked over the prospect of declining property values and joined the "white flight" to the suburbs.

"Who Shot Pat?" (rated R for language), originally titled "Who Shot Patakango?," presents an array of promising new talent, starting with Knight, Sandra Bullock as his college girlfriend, Aaron Ingram as his black pal and Clint Jordan as a hard-nosed type having a tough time letting go of high school. The older generation is represented by Damon Chandler as a dedicated but hard-pressed teacher and Phil Rosenthal as the school's forceful yet amusing principal. The film's sense of period is accurate without being overdone or pointlessly spoofy of its fads, and its unfortunate title refers to a none-too-smart kid who shoots himself with his own zip gun.

'Who Shot Pat?'

David Knight: Bic Bickham

Sandra Bullock: Devlin Moran

Kevin Otto: Mark Bickham

Aaron Ingram: Cougar

A Castle Hill release. Director-cinematographer Robert Brooks. Producer Halle Brooks. Screenplay/editing by Robert & Halle Brooks. Costumes Helen Driskill. Set designer Lionel Driskill. Sound Algis Kaupas. Running time: 1 hour, 46 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (for language).

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