Summer School (1987) — Who’s hot for teacher?

“Tension-breaker. Had to be done.”

Justin’s rating: I should’ve failed more of my classes if summer school is this fun

Justin’s review: As of writing this, it’s the year 2008, a mind-blowing eighteen years after the ’80s officially ended (although the decade did straggle on for a couple of unofficial years afterwards). The Decade of Me has gone from a recent memory to “remember when?” specials to old enough to be cool again, but sooner or later it’s going to slip permanently into the same void where everything pre-1970s goes. Just plain “old” (in pop culture terms).

Since there’s only a finite amount of ’80s flicks out there, and since I’ve been mining for them for 18 years now, I don’t really expect to find too many more cult hits. Less so for great ’80s cult comedies, which I consider the cinematic peak of that decade. So color me flabbergasted when I rented the yawn-inducing-titled Summer School only to find a movie that has instantly gone into my Top 20 comedies for that era.

Yeah yeah, I know you’ve probably seen it, and my wife wouldn’t stop jabbing me that I hadn’t (that’s a rare occurrence in our household, usually it’s me who’s seen everything and she’s the neophyte). In any case, it really made my day to see this and know that these comedies haven’t been trumped by modern gross-out flicks like Tropic Thunder and Superbad.

Directed by Ocean’s Eleven’s Carl Reiner, Summer School is about precisely that: The most horrid version of school ever to exist. Hunky Mark Harmon (Freaky Friday) is Freddy Shoop — your average ’80s slacker rolemodel gym coach who is lazy, witty, and irrepressible. For his talents, Freddy gets strongarmed into staying behind during the summer to teach remedial English to the flunkies. This doesn’t please our Hawaiian-shirted dude, but his tenure (?) depends upon it, so a-teachin’ he shall go!

As with any comedy that demands a Whitman’s Sampler of oddball rejects, Shoop’s class contains a dozen or so bizarre teenagers with various personal problems — take that, Breakfast Club! There’s the kid who’s always asleep, the pregnant girl, the dyslexic girl, the wheezing geek, the space cadet, the football jock, a foreign exchange student (in summer school?), and a pair of fast-talking, gore-obsessed horror movie junkies (aka Dave and Chainsaw). They’re all losers in their own special ways, and just as resistant to Shoop teaching them as Shoop wants to teach.

I think I’ve given you enough information for you to connect the dots, fill in the blanks, and complete the flow chart to take you safely to the end credits. There’s going to be an unreasonable amount of goofing off and unsanctioned “field trips” (my favorite is the one to the petting zoo), a side love interest for Shoop played by Kirstie Alley, a crackdown by “The Man,” some actual inspirational teaching, and a big moment at the end where everyone stands up for the Awesomest Teacher In The World.

It’s nothing deep or unpredictable — but it is pretty darn fun and funny. What I wasn’t expecting is just how much Summer School made me laugh. There’s an armory of explosive quotes (“We just got lapped by an old lady in a walker!”), and the quirky students are in constant danger of overshadowing the lacksidasical nature of Shoop. Toward the end there’s a completely surreal scene of murder most foul, which plowed into me from my blind spot and knocked me over. I love it!

For all the fluff that it is, as sort of teacher myself, I have to logically side with “The Man” for cracking down hard on Shoop’s antics. Shoop is not a bad guy, not really, but he makes that fatal mistake that so many teachers do: wanting so very badly to be everyone’s buddies that he eschews responsibility and common sense that he needs to actually lead. Let me put it another way. Imagine that there is a news headline tomorrow about a high school teacher who has done the following things:

  • Bribes his students with “favors” to get them to do their homework and actually learn.
  • Caught students drinking underage, but instead of bringing it to the attention of their parents, he tells the police it was his liquor and that he gave it to the kids himself.
  • Shows an R-rated horror movie in class.
  • Allows an underaged female girl – who has an obvious crush on him – to move in with him “until she finds a better place”.
  • Takes kids on all sorts of field trips knowing that they’ve all forged parental signatures.
  • Throws a party at his house with booze.

Now, it’s a silly movie, and Mark Harmon is such a puppy dog in it that you don’t actually get too upset with him even though his character should be doing 5-10 in prison for his actions. But it’s worth an eyebrow raise or two that he gets off from any consequence just because he was able to teach kids enough to bring them up to barely-failing grades.

A lesson for the ages, that is.

Didja notice?

  • Cats can live just fine in lockers
  • The last day of school routine… man, I remember this!
  • High school gym coaches get tenure?
  • His name is Chainsaw? His parents must be so proud.
  • Hee… “fart face”
  • How much did those kids blow on the special effects?
  • The Hawaiian shirt that Mark Harmon wears is the same exact Duke Kahanamoku model Montgomery Clift wears in “From Here To Eternity.”
  • The same school was used for the filming of The Karate Kid.

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