187 (1997)

The new movie from the director of WATERWORLD has been advertised 
as "strong," "streetwise," "imaginative," "audacious," "evocatively
directed," "startlingly original," "provocative," "powerful," a 
"masterpiece," and, because there's one in every crowd of critics,
"the best movie of 1997."  And, if you only watched the first hour 
of Kevin Reynolds' surprisingly stylish thriller, you might even 
agree with those folks.  Samuel L. Jackson gives an Oscar-consider-
able performance as an inner-city schoolteacher who, after being 
brutally stabbed by a gang member, moves to the West Cost and ac-
cepts a job as a substitute teacher for... more gang members.  His 
first days back in the classroom are the stuff of true terror, ar-
guably even more sweat-inducing than any crashing planes, speeding 
ships, or rampaging dinosaurs.  (And with nary a special effect in 
sight, save for an extensive array of impressive camera, lighting, 
and sound tricks.)

Trouble comes a-callin' in the second hour, after the poor guy has 
been pushed beyond the breaking point.  The story veers into DEATH 
WISH/FALLING DOWN territory with an anonymous, almost-believable 
attack on one of the gang members.  What pushes the envelope *too* 
far is what happens next-- the revealed fate of their leader, which 
occurred off-screen and earlier in the story.  That's when we're 
asked to put aside everything we've come to know and love about a 
certain character and accept an all-new and entirely different re-
ality.  Needless to say, it doesn't work.  What remains is a head-
scratching shaggy-dog story.  And, of course, The Message.  Even if 
you gag on the ending, you can still expect a sucker-punch from the 
final credits, which note that 1 in 9 teachers are attacked in our 
schools and that 95 percent of those attackers are students.  Good 
God.  (Rated "R"/121 min.)

Grade: B-

Copyright 1997 Michael J. Legeros
Movie Hell is a trademark of Michael J. Legeros

Originally posted to triangle.movies in MOVIE HELL: August 13, 1997

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