The Substitute (1996)

Anyone who has ever taught public school should get a (mild) charge 
out of this one.  Tom Berenger stars as an out-of-work "operative" 
who take his girlfriend's place at an inner-city high-school, after 
an assault (on her) by a gang member.  He traces the attack back to 
a student, quickly arranges some fake credentials, and shows up the 
next day as "Mr. Smith."  Just like that.  Predictable, poorly lit, 
and possessing a tone that too easily shifts on a dime (from 
revenge fantasy to message movie to all points in-between), THE 
SUBSTITUTE is best enjoyed at face value.

The ensemble acting is surprisingly sincere, with Berenger lean and 
mean in the title role.  (He reminds me of how the Marvel Comics' 
character The Punisher would behave on-screen, had he not been 
played by the unfortunate Dolph Lundgren in that unfortunate 1990 
movie.)  The film also has a strong sense humor, right down to the 
straight-faced Schwarzenegger accent attempted by Berenger.  Of 
course, to enjoy this nonsense, you have accept a harsh moral 
stance that allows, among other things, all drug dealers to be shot 
on sight.  Exploitative?  Yes.  Gratuitous?  Yes.  Just remember to 
check your testosterone level before entering.

THE SUBSTITUTE kicks effective butt for about an hour and a half, 
at which point the story finally-- inevitably?-- begins to repeat 
itself.  The last twenty minutes are the worst:  Yet Another 
Showdown, except this one so poorly lit that we can't tell who is 
shooting whom.   Leave a half-hour early and you won't miss a 
thing.  Really.  Now, if only someone had thought to make DANGEROUS 
MINDS with Linda Hamilton instead of Michelle Pfieffer.  She'd be 
back.  (Rated "R"/120 min.)

Grade: C+

Copyright 1996 by Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: April 27, 1996

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