''Sky High" is a squeaky clean, family-friendly comedy that merely sounds like an unreleased Cheech and Chong romp. Set at a high school for superheroes that literally floats in the sky (why it's all the way up there is anybody's guess), the movie sweetens the teen angst that's been known to break out like a case of acne in the best comic books.
This being a Disney joint, the psychological stress and internal struggles are replaced with such boilerplate urgencies as whom to take to the homecoming dance and at which cafeteria table to sit. The difference is that the 14- and 15-year-olds worrying about these problems can lift cars with one arm, turn into rodents, and melt into a puddle of goop. Otherwise, this is, indeed, another teen flick, a spotty, stodgily directed, though occasionally clever one, with several cardboard performances. (Lynda Carter, for instance, plays the principal, and she just sashays through on her good TV reputation. When will acting become a super power?)
Michael Angarano plays Will Stronghold, the son of the world's most famous superheroes, the Commander and Jetstream (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston). Their earthly guises are real estate agents -- um, super real estate agents -- living in the suburbs. Will is about to start at his folks' alma matter, Sky High, but on the bus flight to school, he worries that he hasn't yet discovered his powers. The school is split into two tracks, heroes and sidekicks, and his failure to demonstrate a power lands him among the geeky sidekicks. This irks his gung-ho father, who fights crime in a bulky, red, white, and blue costume that makes him look like a sexy Popsicle.
Will discovers his power (super strength like his pa) during a cafeteria brawl with the school rebel, a flamethrower named Warren Peace (Steven Strait), who's mad that the Commander put his bad dad away. Will is bumped over to Sky High's hero wing, and reluctantly leaves his outcast friends behind, now that he's cool. Even the most popular girl, a ''technopath" named Gwen (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is falling for him. (That the It girl is someone who can control electronics with her mind seem wishful. Where I went to school, we called her ''nerd.")
But Gwen butters up the Strongholds and tricks Will into having a rager while his parents are on assignment. What follows is one of the least convincing house parties ever filmed. The director is Mike Mitchell -- a name I never thought I'd type again following the Ben Affleck turkey ''Surviving Christmas" -- and the superhuman circumstances do nothing for his moviemaking. Kids at that party stand around, indifferent to the watery Radio Disney covers of 1980s pop that leaks from the speakers. This, folks, is our in-crowd. But the party -- and hopefully its lack of rage -- is a ruse Gwen has concocted to humiliate Layla (Danielle Panabaker), Will's childhood best friend and former fellow sidekick, who can control plants.
Will's eco-girl versus machine-girl dilemma is the movie's most inspired development. If ''Sky High" were a cartoon -- OK, were it a better cartoon -- that relationship might have appealed to Hayao Miyazaki, the director of ''Princess Mononoke" and ''Spirited Away." As it is, the film, which is probably suitable for 6- or 7-year-olds, seems to be aiming even lower. (For starters, the adults are turned into babies at one point.)
But Russell appears to be enjoying himself, and casting Angarano to play his son was a smart choice. He looks faintly like Russell, but he also has the blend of sheepishness and confidence that made Russell such a reliable teen star in those long-ago Disney pictures. So if Angarano misses the cut for, say, an ''X-Men" sequel, there's probably a new version of ''The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes" ready to rumble down the assembly line.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.