So once again we have survived.

The Principal

tn_principalThis would’ve been a perfect opportunity for another “is…” movie. James Belushi is… THE PRINCIPAL. But director Christopher Cain (YOUNG GUNS) let that one fly by. Anyway, in this drama-leaning-toward-action James Belushi plays Rich Latimer, a fuckup teacher who’s punished by being “promoted” to principal of Brandel, the crime infested cess pool of an alternative school where all the district’s worst troublemakers get shipped off to after they light a teacher on fire or crash a stolen hot air balloon whatever. Those are not specified but I’m assuming that’s the type of stuff they did. You know this place is bad when Latimer stops by to check it out during non-school hours and gets mixed up in a fight and car chase.

mp_principalThe Principal doesn’t have any combat training like Shale and Thomasson in the SUBSTITUTE series, he’s just some stubborn macho dude. He’s introduced drunk at a bar, his ex-wife comes in with their divorce lawyer, so he steals an autographed Louisville Slugger from behind the bar and goes after the lawyer and especially his car. Latimer lives in a shitty apartment, tries to live off of protein shakes but doesn’t even have milk, so he mixes with Coke or Coors. (Tip: try tap water next time.)

A couple other notes about Latimer: he always seems to be hanging out or around the school when it’s empty. I don’t know why he doesn’t just move in. Keep some milk there. Also, I swear he yells “Son-of-a-BITCH!!!” at least four or five times. That almost should be the name of the movie.

Brandel is as out of control as any of the schools in these movies I’ve been watching. These little adult shits got no respect for education, authority, common decency, or anything else. They beat each other up, they openly sell and smoke joints in the school. They don’t even wait for lunch time. Everyone (including teachers and security) is afraid of Victor Duncan, the student who runs the drug trade at the school and has henchmen and everything. In fact he has one henchman who snaps his fingers and everybody knows it means to leave the hallway or whatever when he does it. Anybody who can command a crowd of people by snapping his fingers you don’t want to fuck with, but you especially don’t want to fuck with the guy who the guy who snaps his fingers answers to.

If you ever watched HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET this guy is basically high school Luther Mahoney. But if you ever watched MONEY TALKS he’s actually the actor who played Aaron, Chris Tucker’s old friend and arms provider.

Latimer has fucked up the rest of his life so bad that he decides to draw the line here. He wants to make this school better. His strengths are tenacity and a strong aversion to bullshit. He casually swears in front of students, violently defends himself when necessary, makes threats. He holds his head high, makes smartass remarks. But he’s got a hell of an uphill battle. His get-tough assembly turns into a riot. A student he makes a connection with is put in the hospital. So is a teacher he likes in a special grownup way (Rae Dawn Chong).

Some things The Principal does backfire, but then so do some things that Victor Duncan’s people do. When they dis-assemble Latimer’s motorcycle he has the autoshop students fix it, and they decide to also airbrush “El Principale” on his tank and helmet. He feels so good about it it inspires him to chase after them off school property and fuck with their drug transactions. He carried a baseball bat before LEAN ON ME (but not before the real Joe Clark. But it would’ve been cool if that guy got the idea from James Belushi. Maybe next time).

Latimer drives his motorcycle inside the school and up the stairs when there’s trouble. After a bunch of thugs put a bag over his head and beat the shit out of him he just takes it off and goes back to work, covered in blood. At the end he has to fight the gangsters inside the school while the students wait outside, exactly like in 3:15. He kicks Duncan in the balls and tosses him out the front door of the school, bringing inspiration to the student body and faculty even though it’s just a symbolic gesture and won’t really solve the school’s problems. But who knows, maybe it was like the 300 Spartans and it inspired everybody to finally straighten out Brandel. Or maybe the snapping guy didn’t have it in him to snap anymore, and everything was peaceful again.

Louis Gosset Jr. is the head of security (or custodian?) who seems like a really good guy to have on your side… except he’s not really that much because he doesn’t do jack shit to help until the end of the movie. In one scene a substitute teacher comes storming down the hall, papers falling out of his briefcase, saying, “You can’t pay enough for anyone to substitute here!” And Louis just laughs.

As far as I know this is the only movie so far where the father of someone who played Superman directed the brother of a Blues Brother, but there’s still time for Brandon Routh’s dad to hook up with Peter Aykroyd. I wrote something before about relatives of more famous actors, how it’s unfair that we can’t get it out of  our heads that they’re the less cool son or brother of so-and-so. I think James Belushi suffers from some of that curse, but also he’s had the bad luck to do a bunch of cheesy movies, so maybe we’re just associating him with those. But you guys called it – he’s good in this, I like him. He actually doesn’t remind me of John Belushi here as much as Bill Murray. Burnt out, hair long on the back, receding in the front, hated by many, liked by the audience, mutters smartass comments that only amuse himself. He’s probly a little nicer than most Murray characters would be, though, tutoring Jacob Vargas (SLEEP DEALER, DEATH RACE) to read after school, Kelly Minter (A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5) before school so she won’t have to sell drugs, tracking down Baby Emile (Troy Winbush) after school to prove to him that somebody gives a shit. And it’s kind of more touching when it’s coming from this fuckup loser guy than when it’s some saintly crusader like in most of these movies. I’m surprised how much I enjoyed this movie.

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 22nd, 2009 at 12:51 am and is filed under Action, Drama, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

24 Responses to “The Principal”

  1. Keep meaning to get around to watching this, as it was apparently filmed (in part, at least) at my own high school, shortly before I was a Freshman there. But I keep getting distracted by other options at the video store. Glad you reviewed it though, it sounds more watchable than I expected.

  2. This review made me want to get my old buddies together and watch some films! I remember the character of the principal winning us over completely the first time we saw the film. It was a good one – for the time and on cable anyway.

    James Belushi is a fascinating case. I’m more with your theory of cheesy-movies-failure than the shadow-of-the-brother-distraction. This gets extra support from the fact that I grew up in a country where the shadow of his brother didn’t really reach. James Belushi was just some guy who appeared by Arnold’s side completely unearned, and noone thought he (Belushi) was cool enough to pull off the promise of that poster, so he was doomed to never be loved again. If anything, I think the problem his brother caused was that unearned spotlight.

    James should have just changed his last name to Cage, and he would have been an Oscar-winner by now.

  3. Not watched this in years, reading Vern’s words inspire me to search it out.

    Seem to remember liking this more than most school based movies, but i guess that is maybe part of Jim belushi’s charm, or the mists of time

  4. Vern you really should check out a late-90s James Belushi action vehicle called Retroactive. It’s truly one of the great straight-to-video action movies of that era. I liked The Principal too, but it’s nowhere near as good as Retroactive.

  5. Jim Belushi just has that scrappy blue-collar charm that I fall for every time. They don’t make lovable wise-cracking lugs like him anymore, and the world is worse for it.

  6. This movie was kind of a dissapointment for me. The final fight was lacking. The “villains” were cartoony. James Belushi was just average. Not very charming but not much of a bad ass either. The best thing was Louis Gosset Jr. but I don’t remember him having much screen time.

    What I don’t get in this type of movies is why the young criminals even bother to go to school.

  7. Slightly off-topic:

    Hey Vern, listen to these extracts from the commentary of “Outlaw” it’s hilarious and makes me think you need to review the film.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=GB&v=e5h9ZPBuBEs

    ‘1976 Taxi Driver came out. Got Cunted’

    ‘Film geeks and that really like it, cos like you’ve gotta think when you watch it’

    The director/actor genuinly think they’ve made a modern day Taxi Driver/Dirty Harry and think that the film reviewers that hated it must all be failed film makers who don’t ‘get’ how important the film is. But this is all being said in heavy cockney accents with excessive swearing, it’s awesome.

  8. Reading this review I got the impression that this movie is like a more serious action movie version of Eastbound and Down.

  9. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Outlaw is unsatisfying, unentertaining, and totally full of shit. One of my least favorite movies ever.

  10. OUTLAW commentaty: “Well, you’re never going to make a film that pleases everybody”

    Well maybe, but I also thought that you’re never going to make a film which pleases no one, and youmanaged to pull that off pretty well, huh?

  11. Actually ebonic, since you bring it up I’m kind of hoping that’s season 2’s plot.

    “I’m Kenny Fucking Powers, and I’m here to turn this shit around.”

  12. “James Belushi was just some guy who appeared by Arnold’s side completely unearned…”

    SALVADOR?

  13. Vern:
    Speaking of “Homicide: Life on the Streets,” I’d really like to hear your take on “The Wire.” It would be cool to get a review for each episode (they’re all worth it, in my opinion), but an overview of the series, or one for each season, would also be cool.

  14. The funny thing about Jim Belushi is that while I like his action films, he does star in the worst sitcom ever to have lasted for 57 years.

  15. GoJoe:

    I re-read my comment, and I can see that it can easily be read as critical. I just want to say for the record that I really like Belushi, and I seriously believe he would have been absolutely great in e.g. many of the roles Nicolas Cage has played. Belushi just doesn’t seem to get/take the right parts very often, although he still keeps me hoping, and I still watch anything I can find with him (he did a great side-character in a half-assed romantic comedy starring David Duchovny and a gorilla…).

    But I also have to remember the fact that regardless of how great Belushi was in Salvador (which was not something I watched as a youngster), he had not earned the right to stand next to Conan/The Terminator/Matrix/Dutch/Richards on equal terms on a poster. So, having the little guy stand there none the less made you expect all kinds of awesome from him, and he didn’t deliver. For me and my friends (we were 13-14 at the time), that gave us some problems with Belushi for a few important years in his career.

    But now I’m over it, and right now out looking for the film Thief, which I might have missed completely if it wasn’t for these talkbacks about the guy.

  16. doktor rock:

    That half-assed romantic comedy would be RETURN TO ME, which I think is actually pretty goddamn good. Belushi is hilarious in that, along with Bonnie Hunt who plays his wife (and directed the picture). Anywho, it’s one of the few romantic comedies that I actually like and also Minnie Driver is kinda weird looking.

    Uh, anyway, Belushi should play Johnny Cash some time.

  17. Minnie Driver might be “kinda weird looking,” but I saw her in THE RICHES for the first time recently and was impressed by her performance. Really outstanding stuff.

  18. Good call, GoJoe

    Salvador was a great Belushi perfomance. It was like he was channeling his brother, a little, but made the role his own. I also believe K9 pissed all over Turner and Hooch!

    Speaking of Salvador… what the fuck happened to James Woods? He used to be a serious interesting actor. Seems he’s went the way of De Niro, Pacino, Kietel etc.

  19. Almost forgot, I’m a little ashamed of this one but….. I totally have a soft spot for MR DESTINY also. Featuring everyone’s favourite sleaze-ball Hart Bochner!

    Michael Caine, Rene Russo, Sarah Connor, John Lovitz… pretty eclectic casting too.

  20. I absolutely love Mr. Destiny, and I freely admit I may be the only person with a working brain who was surpsised by the “twist” ending (or whatever you want to call it). As for The Principal, I fondly remember it as the first movie I ever rented, solely based off of the trailers/commercials. Nothing like sitting down with the folks when you’re like 10 and watching Rae Dawn Chong get beat up and attempted-raped.

  21. I just rewatched this and I was struck by something weird in the last scene. Belushi has just kicked some ass and is getting on his motorcycle. Hanging out on the other side of the chainlink fence around the school is one random black guy. Out of nowhere, he’s yells, “Who the hell do you think you are, man?” And Belushi’s little Mexican sidekick that he’s teaching to read is like, “Hey, that’s The Principal, man!”

    I know they only shot this scene so they could put it in the trailer, but I think every movie that’s named after its main character should end this way. An angry black man should come out of nowhere and ask the title character who he thinks he is.

    ANGRY BLACK MAN: Who the hell do you think you are, man?
    COMMISSIONER GORDON: Hey, that’s The Dark Knight, man!

    KANYE WEST: Who the hell do you think you are, man?
    DICK CHANEY: Hey, that’s W., man!

    Vern, if that guy who owns your life rights ever gets around to making that movie, now you got the ending.

  22. Mr. M, hilarious stuff. By the way thanks for the recommendation on FEAR CITY. What an equally great and strange movie. (SPOILER) I love how it builds to boxer vs ninja showdown. Also, Berenger is so fucking intense in it it really made the movie for me, but they kind of under used Billy Dee.

    PS: I hope you are doing better then you were the other day after seeing THE MECHANIC remake.

  23. I’m doing much better, thanks. Glad you liked FEAR CITY. I agree that boxer vs. ninja is an underrepresented matchup, like MMA fighter vs. fencer. And I know Billy Dee doesn’t have much to do in the film but I love how unabashedly hard-boiled his dialogue is. It’s like he’s straight out of a Dick Tracey comic strip.

  24. You are right on about Billy Dee’s dialogue. That is part of the reason I wished he had more of a role. I also really liked how he was introduced, and how everyone was like “Oh shit” when he first showed up at the club. No one need to to say how badass he was, you knew right away just based on how everyone reacted to him.

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