I'm not trying to be a hero! I'M FIGHTING THE DRAGON!!

The Substitute 2: School’s Out

tn_substitute2I was concerned about THE SUBSTITUE 2: SCHOOL’S OUT because it substitutes Treat Williams for Tom Berenger. What kind of a trade is that? And when will Tom Berenger get healthy enough to come back? That’s why despite being Mr. DTV Sequel I avoided this movie for years.

Don’t get me wrong – Treat Williams has his place. But it’s not behind Tom Berenger’s desk. Berenger was so good in the first one with his gruff voice and scarred face. Williams is more of a pretty boy nerd with a squeaky, whiny voice. I couldn’t see how it would work.

Well, duh – by having him play a different character. That was a relief to find out. Not a relief on the level of “phew, the MRI shows I don’t have M.S.,” but still a relief My pre-judgment of Treat Williams was off-base. I really like him in this movie.

It turns out Shale and Jane joined the Peace Corps and went to teach in Costa Rica. (I guess he was just fucking around at the end of part 1 when he said he wanted to go to L.A. to teach. Or maybe this is a tribute to the way DEATH WISH 2 refuses to follow the sequel setup from the end of part 1.)

mp_substitute2Williams plays Karl Thomasson, a special ops guy who happens to know Shale from work, but that’s not important to the plot. Thomasson is an expert on defense who teaches countries or something (it’s vague, secretive and mysterious). He comes to New York after his brother, a teacher, has been murdered by a gang. Thomasson doesn’t seem to be aware of Shale’s substitute teaching, but he decides to do the same thing. Dangerous minds think alike.

True, this is pretty much just a rehash of part 1, but unlike say a WILD THINGS 2, a CRUEL INTENTIONS 2 or a THE SKULLS 2 it’s a really enjoyable rehash. Williams, not being as outwardly scary as Berenger, has to demonstrate his skills more, and has to fuck with them psychologically. The way he introduces himself to the class is classic. He takes out a yo-yo and uses it to illustrate a concept about perception. The kids are rightfully thinking oh jesus. It seems like he’s some dumb nerd who watched DEAD POET’S SOCIETY too many times and thought he could make a difference. But come on man, a fuckin a yo-yo? Where are the juggling scarves? The magician hat? The kazoo?

But then he says that yo-yos were invented as a weapon in the Phillipines and he uses his to explode a smartass kid’s 40 ouncer of orange drink.

That’s one area where the sequel expands on the first one: I think the time spent in class is more valuable. I think Shale genuinely bonded with some of the kids but didn’t know what to tell them other than “stay out of a gang.” I like that Thomasson spends a little more time trying to teach them. There’s another great scene where he throws a kid’s boombox out the window to teach him what “impasse” means and what can happen when neither side will compromise. This leads to a knife fight. Then he has to leave class (knowingly walking into an ambush) so he puts that same kid in charge, clearly gaining his respect in an ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN type of way. Beer’s to you, my amigo, for all that we’ve been through.

There’s alot of other shit going on too. Michael Michele from HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET is a love interest and connection at the school. Thomasson has to look after his niece (Susan May Pratt – kind of bad in the movie, but I forgive her) and does a better job bonding than Ryback does with his niece in UNDER SIEGE 2 when they met under similar circumstances. He meets a former tunnel rat janitor at the school who shows him how to climb around in the vents and provides him with vintage weaponry (corny, but kind of amusing). Instead of a whole team like in part 1 he just has one loyal badass merc buddy (Angel David) who joins his crusade for no upfront pay. See, this is what I was hoping Liam Neeson’s buddies in TAKEN would be like. This guy spies for Thomasson, even faces off with some gangsters (led by the rapper Guru from Gang-Starr) who are torturing a guy, backed only by Thomasson shining a bunch of laser pointers to make them think they all could get sniped. Everybody should have a friend like that.

I actually didn’t catch while watching it that the friend in question is supposed to be Joey Six, Raymond Cruz’s character from the first one. (It turns out he ultimately decided against the topknot style ponytail.) I don’t know if this speaks highly of mercenaries in general or just of Joey Six, but here is a guy who risked his life repeatedly as favors to at least two different merc buddies. I’m sure he’d help them move too if they asked.

In my review of part 1 I said that the American education system can’t be that bad because we had a ninja teaching. I take that back. Sure, we got another ninja type teacher here, but it’s also becoming clear that there’s way too much crime in the public schools. In this case it’s a chop shop run by the auto shop teacher (B.D. Wong, MEN OF WAR, EXECUTIVE DECISION), himself a merc who’s willing to murder to cover his tracks.

I like a movie that combines that kind of ludicrousness with a touch of subtlety. One of the bad guys is the only white male we see at the school. He pretends to be nice and is very close to deflowering Thomasson’s niece. But he’s secretly involved with this gang and complains that he had to do it because his dad wouldn’t buy him the expensive car he wanted.  The subtlety I refer to is the shot in his bedroom that starts on some gangster rap poster and pans across his other things – Godzilla toys, skateboard stickers, all the phases he’s gone through. Unlike the black and Hispanic kids in that class this kid has the luxury of using the gang as just another hobby he floats through. Or a summer job. He doesn’t have as much of an excuse for not knowing a better way out.

So credit is due to Roy Frumkes & Rocco Simonelli, writers of the original SUBSTITUTE script before it was rewritten by our man Alan Ormsby. Here they get sole (duel?) credit. The director is Steven Pearl, who you will remember was second second assistant director on BILL AND TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE.

In a way these movies are kind of the anti DEATH WISH. They see a similar reality of youth out of control, but instead of just blowing them away these movies take a shot at teaching them first. It’s DEATH TEACH.

The end of part 2 is more dumb than the rest of the movie, but in a funny way. In part 1 the action climax was in the school, but at night. Thomasson ups the ante by confronting the bad guy during class. That means auto shop, which means karate vs. welding torch. What I love is that all the students just watch and enjoy themselves. When Wong is dead they act like that’s the end of that. Well, that settles it. And Thomasson smiles, leaving the corpse just laying there. The janitor tells all the students to go back to class, show’s over, like all it was was a little fight. Shit, even if it was just a scrap, it was between teachers, that would be a pretty big deal, wouldn’t it? I guess around here they’ve seen everything, they’re jaded.

If I had to choose the best substitute I’d take the obvious choice, Shale. But I really like this character Thomasson, and with Williams playing him it was really smart to not just play him as a Shale copycat. This guy is actually not so out of place as a teacher. He seems to be more educated, and doesn’t try to hide it. An intellectual soldier. Before he becomes the substitute there’s an incident where some gangsters drive by him. One says, “Yo, asshole!” He smiles and asks “Are you addressing me?” It just made me laugh, he doesn’t mind using formal language when somebody says “you, asshole!” to him. Next thing you know he’s been shot at and broken a wrist. This guy is smarter than you and deadlier than you. So quit fucking around and do your homework.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, September 15th, 2009 at 2:07 am and is filed under Action, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

23 Responses to “The Substitute 2: School’s Out”

  1. Man, you’d think that they’d get a little more inventive with the posters. Setting up near the same shot and then going black & white is lazy as hell.

  2. And it’s not just the poster. “School’s Out” as a subtitle is everything else than creative either.

  3. I noticed that Berenger is listed in the cast list of the new Christopher Nolan movie, Inception.

  4. Eric Roberts, Michael Jai White, and now Berenger? I’m not the world’s biggest Nolan fan, but I’m glad he doesn’t discriminate against actors who have been forced to go the DTV route.

    Also, Berenger was scary as balls in Looking For Mr. Goodbar. What a mindfuck that movie was. I showed it to a girl without telling her about the end, so she thought she was watching a feminist melodrama. Then the stabbing started.

  5. Never forget Platoon guys. Berenger is one of the scariest dudes ever in that one.

  6. Wait….BD Wong?? He’s the villain in this? Can’t be the same guy I’m thinking of right? Martin Short’s gay partner from the Father of the Bride movies?? This is going on my Netflix que as of right now.

  7. I’m getting my MA in secondary education right now, so watching this series has been an important instructional experience for me. Sadly, I’m more of a Treat Williams type than a Tom Berenger so thanks, Vern, for convincing me that I too may be able to kill an evil teacher with no reprecussions and inspire innner city youth in the process.

  8. Vern you MUST review Part 3 & 4. You will have a field day with those. 3 is my personal favorite but 4 has a special place in my heart because of Patrick Kilpatrick’s beyond over the top performance. The world needs more Substitute sequels…

  9. Death Teach?

    I think your on to something there Vern.

  10. Wait. There is a part 4?

  11. Homicide: Life on the Street is the best show ever, too bad Michael Michele was its worst cast member.

    Also, this movie rules, especially the yo-yo part.

  12. Yes, there is a Substitute 4. It takes place at a military school. The subtitle is Failure is Not an Option. The villain is a whit supremist. It is awesome.

  13. make that “white” not whit…

  14. How long before instead of a mercenary, the substitute teacher is a monster hunter, and is going after a pack of Lycanthropes lead by Michael J. Fox. The Substitute: Teach Wolf (Teech Wolf?)

  15. Actually Stu, the white supremacists in Substitute 4 are called “The Werewolves”… eerie.

  16. That makes no sense. A werewolf by definition is half one thing and half another. Sounds like miscegenation to me. What self-respecting white supremacist fuckface would call himself that?

  17. odo19 – You’re thinking of the right guy. Wong is best known these days for that Law & Order show, but he shows up all over the place, in Jurassic Park, The Freshman, The Ref, Executive Decision, and, yes, both Father of the Bride flicks.

  18. Vern! Long time reader, first time etc. I actually have never seen this movie but…

    I went to the the New York School of Visual Arts to study film back in the mid 90s. Not a great experience but one of my screenwriting teachers was none other than Substitute scribe Rocco Simonelli. Most of my classmates were lame artsy hipsters with no appreciation for genre stuff. Simonelli was not a great teacher by any means (nor was he a mercenary as far as I could tell) but he did make us watch the fight scene from They Live for no particular reason which was dope. All the artsy types rolled their eyes and groaned through his class because all we did was talk about genre movies. Oh, another teacher at the school at the time? Mr. Roy Frumkes. Never had his class but he would stop by Simonelli’s class often.

    I remember that Substitute 2 was in production at the time and the two of them cracking jokes to each other about BD Wong being cast as the villain since he was so um…non-imposing. They both seemed like guys who knew what type of films they were making and were thrilled to be involved in making low budget 42nd street type movies. I didn’t learn a damn thing from his class but it was definitely refreshing amidst all that self-serious “artiste” wankery.

  19. Good to see the Berenger love. Anyone remember Shattered and/or Shoot to Kill/Deadly Pursuit? They’re pretty good ones. I think it’s awesome that Nolan pulls these guys into his films – and it works. I thought Roberts was great in Dark Knight.

    Re. Mercenary top-knots. Thanks for the specific info on that issue Vern (Excellence striven for and achieved there). Interesting to see it was kiboshed for the sequel. Despite my survey/research on these boards an Executive Decision has been made and my Merc will be sporting this controversial hairdo – although he will get some shit for it.

  20. I don’t see why we can’t add a third genre into this Substitute phenomenon. Substitute 4: Teacher of the Dead. I think you see where I’m going with this, but I’ll elaborate just in case:

    Thomasson and Shale have to team up as substitutes to take down an illegal human growth hormone ring at a small state university with a struggling football team, only the hormones get out of control and begin turning football players (and then the entire studentry) into zombies. This shit writes itself, my friends.

  21. lol CRUEL INTENTIONS 2, the only redeeming value of that movie was the shower scene with the two chicks showing their big breasteses

  22. Mr. Majestyk- What if they were WHITE Wolves?

  23. Hmm. I didn’t think of that. Fucking racist lycanthropes.

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