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A film going along for the ride, tracking teens playing hooky

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In his continuing attempt to make the perfect teen-age movie, John Hughes has focused mainly on girls -- played mainly by Mollie Ringwald, his prot'eg'ee -- in pictures like ``Sixteen Candles'' and ``Pretty in Pink.'' Since his latest comedy zeroes in on a boy, it may be that ``Ferris Bueller's Day Off'' is a more personal film, a more direct expression of Hughes's own experience. But that doesn't mean the movie digs any deeper or rings any truer than his earlier epics.

Ferris Bueller is no more complex or compelling than other Hughes heroes, and his ``day off'' is just another frivolous episode, expanded to feature length through the magic of superficial screenwriting.

Played with characteristic charm by Matthew Broderick, the title character is a likable goof-off who sees high school as a minor obstacle in his path to a nonstop good time.

Deciding to take one of his habitual days off, he begins by faking an illness or two. Then he lures a reluctant pal and a willing girlfriend into the plot, and commandeers a classic car from a neighboring garage.

The rest of the story details his guilty pleasures (a wild drive, an expensive lunch, a sunny swim) and the efforts of a fanatical school official (played by Jeffrey Jones, leaving behind the brilliance he showed as the emperor in ``Amadeus'') to track him down and pin a truancy rap on him.

As in most Hughes movies, there's an earnest undercurrent running through all these shenanigans -- a sense that the filmmaker sees the adventures of his heroes as high-spirited metaphors for a better, freer, more exuberant life than middle-class adulthood can offer.

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