struck-by-lightning1[xrr rating=1.75/5]Surely no one would fault Chris Colfer for seizing an opportunity when he had it, seeing a metaphorical hot iron before him and, if you will, striking it. At a time when the television show “Glee” was still a mighty phenomenon and Colfer was winning awards for playing Kurt Hummel thanks to the juicy scenes of teenage anguish handed him by series creator Ryan Murphy, the actor signaled his intentions to move into the category of Hollywood multi-hyphenate, including a spin as a screenwriter. The results of that arrive with Struck by Lightning, a fairly dire high-school comedy that perhaps betrays some influence from his televised day job. The worse problem is that the film suggests Colfer has been paying too keen attention to what sorts of self-consciously edgy and quirky indie comedies are afforded a place in art-house cinemas. We’re never going to emerge from the smothering shadow of Little Miss Sunshine’s stupid yellow bus.

Colfer plays Carson Phillips, a high-school student whose dream of escape from his dismal, dinky hometown hinges on his getting into Northwestern, a college his guidance counselor (Angela Kinsey) hasn’t even heard of. And isn’t that a stitch? To help bolster his transcript, Carson is the editor of the school newspaper, staffed by a random assemblage of misfits who never turn in any articles, and president of the Writing Club, an even more sparsely populated organization. Naturally ostracized – mostly because he has a really snotty attitude that I think is supposed to read as refreshing honesty – Carson is grudgingly grinding away, mounting minor feuds with classmates and also engaging in nasty arguments with his depressed, highly self-medicated mother (Allison Janney). He also has a dementia-addled grandmother (Polly Bergen), a deadbeat father (Dermot Mulroney) who’s impregnated his pharmacist fiancée (Christina Hendricks) without telling her about his previous marriage and a whole batch of nasty rivalries at school. For a short movie, it sure piles on the plot details. And yet it manages to make practically none of them interesting in the slightest.

The film’s one interesting idea bobs up as it heads into the second half, when Carson is informed that he probably doesn’t have enough extracurricular activities to catch the interest of a school like Northwestern. So he decides to start a literary magazine. That seems like more of the same rather than a helpful diversification of his efforts, but whatever. With almost no allies in the school willing to work with him, he decides the only route to finding contributors is to blackmail them into being involved. He threatens to reveal sordid secrets unless poems and short stories are turned in. It’s not insightful, inspired black comedy, but it’s just different enough to give the movie much needed narrative momentum for a while, at least until the inevitable lessons must be learned.

Brian Dannelly directs the whole thing with a flavorless disinterest, giving the film the overlit veneer of a rushed television project. The closest he comes to developing any sort of visual style is the occasional staging of shots with some sort of visual impediment in the way, such as plate-glass window or some clumpy foliage. I suspect it’s supposed to lend a sense of voyeurism (also achieved by employing video-camera footage supposedly shot by Carson’s clubmate Malerie, played by Rebel Wilson in the film’s only good performance), but it’s just a distraction, a bit of busyness in a film already overloaded with that quality. Dannelly brought some welcome verve to his prior film, Saved!, another high-school comedy that wasn’t quite as daring as it thought it was. Here, his work is pedestrian and cluttered with affections. Bad as the directing job is, it’s in line with Colfer’s screenplay. Again, no one can blame the actor for wanting to write it, but surely some shots can be taken at the people who decided it was worth filming.

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