Director Richard Linklater and writer Mike White are known for dark, independent comedies about social misfits, it's both pleasantly surprising and a mild disappointment that their joint efforts produced a light, mainstream comedy with a traditional story line and some catchy tunes. Ever optimistic rock musician Dewey Finn (Jack Black) is determined to bring his band, No Vacancy, to victory at an upcoming Battle of the Bands contest. But his uncontrollable stage-diving and endless guitar solos have sorely tried his bandmates' patience, and they hand him his walking papers. Devastated, he goes into hibernation on a tiny mattress in the middle of his friend Ned's (White) apartment. But Ned's annoying girlfriend, Patty (Sarah Silverman), wants to rid their apartment of the slacker, and issues an ultimatum: Dewey must find employment or face eviction. Ever resourceful, he scams one of Ned's substitute-teaching gigs at Horace Green prep school, and begins sharing his unique insights with a group of impressionable fifth graders — things like the definition of "hangover" and tips on sticking it to the man. After catching a music lesson, Dewey comes up with a new plan to ace the Battle of the Bands — he'll assemble a new band of talented pre-teens. Telling the kids he's preparing them for a top-secret, inter-school rock competition, he begins adapting (some might say perverting) their abilities to his needs. Upright-bass player Katie (Rebecca Brown) tries her hand at the electric version; classical pianist Lawrence (Robert Tsai) is cajoled into keyboards; Freddy (Kevin Clark) is easily persuaded to ditch homework for drums; and Zack (Joey Gaydos Jr.) trades his acoustic guitar for something with an amp. Soon the entire class is involved, singing back-up, providing security, designing costumes and lighting or becoming groupies. Only Summer (Miranda Cosgrove) seems disturbed that music has supplanted all other subjects, but she's placated with the high-profile job of manager. The ragtag group's most daunting challenge is avoiding the watchful eye of stressed-out and uptight Principal Mullins (Joan Cusack). Linklater and White showcase Black's sarcastic humor and musical talent in equal parts (the actor has his own band, Tenacious D), and those who find his crass comedy painful in large doses should be warned that he's in nearly every scene. But the kids — most of them first-timers cast for natural charisma and musical ability — steal the show, and a talented supporting cast helps take the edge off Black's manic antics.