Despite being poorly acted, poorly scripted, and just plain scattershot, Cooley High developed a fond following as one of the earliest "guys hanging out and getting in trouble" films for the urban community. Michael Schultz' film is also remembered for its signature song, Freddie Perren's "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday," which the group Boyz II Men re-popularized in the 1990s on their album Cooleyhighharmony, indicating the enduring popularity of this film. The adventures of Preach (Glynn Turman) and Cochise (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs) feel authentic -- good, rambunctious fun on the streets of lower-middle-class 1960s Chicago. These bits earn the film the good will that defies its faults. However, even though scripter Eric Monte wisely resists casting the characters strictly as saints or sinners, their frequently ignoble behavior ends up making them unsympathetic. Cochise is a handsome and generally affable jock, but he's such a seducer that he finds women utterly disposable, to the point that it's hard to root for him. And the bespectacled Preach fritters away his obvious intelligence (he reads and writes poetry for fun) by always acting the fool, undercutting the few strides he makes with outrageous blunders. The film's episodic nature cripples its fluidity, and when a concerned teacher played by Garrett Morris is introduced far too late in the narrative, it becomes clear that Cooley High isn't enough about high school to warrant being named after one. Viewers might also find the tonal shift at the end rather abrupt, given the loosey-goosey nature of the events leading up to it. The kind of film that's fun despite a litany of reasonable complaints, Cooley High remains a benchmark in early black cinema, and Schultz would follow it with a blaxploitation classic, Car Wash (1976).
by Derek Armstrong review