Class-ic rock: Who says <I>School</I>'s no fun?

If you believe in rock and roll, clap your hands... to a triplet beat.

Feelgood movies should have a separate category in award competitions. Their "end justifies the means" philosophy means certain standards have to be jettisoned as long as one leaves the theater with an ear-to-ear grin.

In The School of Rock, for instance, one must overlook the "artistic license" of impossible (and invisible) soundproofing, a control freak principal who goes weeks without checking on the classroom of an eccentric substitute teacher, and an instantaneous mass wardrobe change for the Big Number.

One cannot overlook, and must therefore revel in, the performance of Jack Black, a shameless dynamo who is probably the closest thing to John Belushi in entertainment today– right down to the monogram. He carries on outrageously and often inventively, virtually demanding that you love him. If he can't wear you down (but I'll bet he can) you're going to have a hard time sitting through this movie.

Black plays Dewey Finn, a failed rock musician who poses as a substitute teacher to keep his best friend (Mike White as Ned) from throwing him out for non-payment of rent. Actually, it's Ned's girlfriend Patty (Sarah Silverman) who wants Dewey out. White (The Good Girl) also wrote the screenplay.

Dewey intercepts a phone call for Ned, who's a real substitute teacher, and takes the gig at Horace Green, "the best elementary school in the state," run by uptight Principal Rosalie Mullins (Joan Cusack). The kids, whose parents spend $15,000 a year to send them there, are the repressed creatures you'd expect– until Dewey gets his mojo working on them.

Having been dumped by his last band, and being too notorious to attract anybody to a new one, Dewey is frustrated in his desire to enter an upcoming Battle of the Bands. After hearing his students attempt "Concierto de Aranjuez" in music class, he gets a brainstorm: It's easier to form a rock band from 16 ten-year-olds than one 160-year-old.

Since he has already jettisoned the curriculum, Dewey only has to make an adjustment to the permanent recess he had instituted. From now on, the kids are going to study rock and roll – not only musicianship, but history and attitude as well. "Rock and roll is about stickin' it to the man," for instance.

He also has to instill self-esteem in a couple of kids– keyboardist Lawrence (Robert Tsai), who thinks he's not cool enough, and backup singer Tomika (Maryam Hassan), who thinks she's too fat. (He's not and she is, but that doesn't matter.)

Grade-grubbing ass-kisser Summer Hathaway (Miranda Cosgrove) becomes band manager. Freddy Jones (Kevin Alexander Clark) plays drums. Zack Mooneyham (Joey Gaydos) is on lead guitar. Katie (Rebecca Brown), a cellist, plays bass. Dewey, naturally, is lead vocalist and plays guitar. Others are roadies, groupies, security guards; and Billy (Brian Falduto) volunteers to be "band stylist." Send this boy to "Camp"!

A rare commercial venture for brilliant but independent director Richard Linklater, The School of Rock is a movie and a fantasy, but a delightful one in which the kids make amazing progress as individuals in their three weeks under Dewey's tutelage, and of course their responsiveness snaps him out of his terminal lethargy. By the end he can truly say what is a joke in the beginning: "I serve society by rocking."

And the Battle of the Bands takes place during school hours – add that to the "artistic license" list above – so the class can sneak out to participate.

Because Dewey is locked into a musical period from around the time he was born, the soundtrack is filled with "classic rock" that may inspire kids to get out their parents' old vinyl collections and start listening seriously. Expect some new reissue CDs to take advantage of this reawakened interest. The music industry will try anything but fair pricing to break out of their sales slump.

Without giving away the ending, it suggests a golden franchising opportunity. I'm sure someone already has the trademarks and legalities in order to launch it. For all Dewey's bitching about MTV having "ruined rock and roll" and calling his ex-bandmates "a bunch of wannabe corporate sellouts," you know this movie wasn't financed by hippies with "spare change" they collected on the street.

Yes, "School of Rock" rhymes with "rule of schlock," and you can feel your strings being pulled and your buttons being pushed; but see if it doesn't send you out smiling and believing, "One good rock show can change the world!"

Let's hope one good rock movie can do the same.