Ha ha!

You just never know what he'll review next!

Monday, 24 February 2020

Burl reviews The Substitute! (1996)

Ha ha and hard lessons, it’s Burl, here to review a ballcrawler from the mid-90s! It’s The Substitute, a picture I’d never seen before from the director of F/X, and it features a premise so basic and irresistible that I feel certain it must have been used in other pictures, or even many other pictures! It’s as follows: a teacher in a gang school is injured by her thuggish students, and so her boyfriend, a paper-trained mercenary, takes over as the substitute, and teaches that gang a lesson they won’t soon forget! Or maybe that they will soon forget, but only because they’re dead! Ha ha!
Tom Berenger, perhaps best known from his roles in Someone To Watch Over Me and Last Rites, plays the merc-friend, while Diane Venora from Wolfen and Heat, is his injured ladylove! Ernie Hudson from Ghostbusters plays the no-nonsense principal of the school, who karate-chops cricket bats and pretty clearly has his own thing going on; and Glenn Plummer from Funny Farm is the idealistic young teacher who once used to attend this tough, almost prison-like institution!
And what is going on in the school, you ask, aside from random bursts of violence against the faculty? Mind drugs! Yes, they’re trafficked in by yellowbus thanks to the local Seminole crime ring, and only Berenger and his mercenary crew can issue these dealers the low card they so richly deserve! His crew, it should be noted, contains several familiar faces: Raymond Cruz from Gremlins 2; Richard Brooks from Teen Wolf and Shocker; the great Luis Guzman from Innocent Blood and McBain; and of course there’s the requisite insane member of the crew, here played by William Forsythe from Smokey Bites the Dust and Extreme Prejudice! And Cliff De Young from Protocol plays the sleazy drugs lawyer who suddenly poops his pants! Ha ha!
The funny thing about watching this picture these days, especially so soon after viewing something like John Wick Chapter 2, is how strangely realistic it is, relatively speaking, for an action picture! Ha ha, Berenger’s character certainly is a tough guy, but he wouldn’t last five seconds in the Wick-world, because things like punches, kicks and gunshots actually seem to hurt him! In the first punchfight scene, the fellow Berenger’s battling is much bigger than him, and is waving a stick around, so, as any of us might do in the same situation, Berenger tries to hide behind a tree!
This was weirdly refreshing, even though The Substitute is in the end just the same old dopey action picture told and retold over and again with different heroes and different punks! It’s cathartic in an animal-brained way to see these nasty gangsmen get theirs from someone they’d pegged as just another wimpy teacher, and the picture is not badly done, but it goes on too long and the school-based climax doesn’t make use of the location in the same sadistically inventive way as something like Class of 1984! Although there is a scene in which Berenger hurls an entire gang out the library window, one by one! Ha ha!
It’s a watchable enough picture I suppose, but very middling and forgettable! I appreciated the one small stab at pathos and pro-education social commentary, which manifests in the scene where the gang member is made to write “I’m sorry” one hundred times on the blackboard; but when we glimpse his work it pathetically reads “I’m sorey” over and over! I give The Substitute one and a half suitcase security monitors!


  1. Basically what would have happened if Edward James Olmos or Michelle Pfeiffer had decided that violence was the only language their students understood and took action accordingly. Unpalatable in real life, but low level engaging in fiction.

    1. It's what would have happened had Robin Williams had taken the "Dead" part of Dead Poets Society more seriously, ha ha!