Released almost two decades ago, Pump Up the Volume still feels incredibly smart, audacious, and enraged, an inspired call to action against the fascism of limitation, and definitely not just another teen movie. Considering the amount of lowest common denominator trash that has plagued this particular sub-genre, director Allan Moyle’s film feels downright revolutionary in its view of teenage uncertainty. The story envisions coming of age in an angst-ridden world of high school far more political and mortal than the those represented in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Say Anything, two other films considered to be standouts of the teen drama. Here, words reveal the falsities and contradictions of adult action, giving youths the courage to stand up and say so.
Mark (Christian Slater in what may be his one great role), an underground radio personality by night and nervous high school student by day, signifies the outcast voice of a collective teen population trying to survive an unresponsive, unaware sanitary suburbia. He goes on the air thinking no one is listening, more as a personal purge of his own demons than a teenage manifesto. But his singular surge of profane commentary soon turns county wide, injecting his fellow students with a sense of place, identity, and confidence the school administrators, teachers, and parents have failed to inspire.
Pump Up the Volume deals with suicide, sexual orientation, and group dynamics, but never in a heavy-handed way. The film views these events as every-day occurrences, crisis’ of communicative trauma experienced by teens of all types, sorts, and looks. These kids are products of an adult sector completely remiss of understanding its offspring, unwilling to admit the dreams of the 1960’s counter culture have dwindled into a frightening obsession with power, most harrowingly represented through the Education System’s emphasis on test scores and morality conferencing.
It’s a film uncompromising in message and unfailing in execution, bringing a timely and incendiary point of view to an age group feeling all too lost amidst the pointless chatter and hapless promises of an alien adult world. “Talk hard,” and those who’ve been afraid to wake up might just rise to the occasion.