The Substitute (1996) — Send a merc to clean up a school

“Everybody works for money.”

Justin’s rating: Teachers! Leave those kids alone!

Justin’s review: Thinking about the plot of The Substitute makes my head hurt. There are some mercenaries that did a job for the US, not knowing that the government has a movie track record near 100% for leaving our operatives high and dry when things go awry. Disgruntled, head merc Shale (Tom Berenger) takes his semi-retirement time to become a substitute teacher for his girlfriend after she gets Nancy Kerrigan’d in the legs.

If you only believed movies, you’d think that every single high school in America has a higher mortality rate than most prisons. This might be true. I no longer go to school. It does not suit me. Nevertheless, Shale is forced to resort to special ops tactics on his students five minutes after he starts teaching. Then he discovers that the school system is peddling drugs, and Mr. Merc breaks out even more of his special brand of skills to tackle the problem.

Stupid as this whole set-up is, there is just something enjoyable about seeing a teacher pack heat and wire a school for video and sound. Berenger, who I’ve never really liked in any movie, does all right when it comes to action (particularly a fun sequence in the school library), but he does not convince as the “teacher everyone loves.”

A better actor is Ernie Hudson, who plays the principal. As the corrupt system is torn down by Shale, bit by bit, Ernie gets to do some fine reaction to the insanity happening all around him.

I’d say that The Substitute is a nice blend of Dangerous Minds and every post-Vietnam movie made. See it after a stressful day of school (going to or teaching). But honestly, I don’t see why this kicked off an entire franchise of movies. Explain that one, eh?

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