The Substitute (1996)

Genres - Action, Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Action Thriller  |   Run Time - 114 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Michael Costello

Robert Mandel's ludicrously over-the-top action film is an instant camp classic. Tom Berenger stars as a former mercenary who takes over his girlfriend's (Diane Venora) class after she's kneecapped by one of her more unruly students. He wins over his class through the movie-teacher ploy of throwing out the curriculum to talk about real life, and about his experience in Vietnam, which he helpfully likens to a gang war. Berenger quickly runs afoul of the student thugs who work for drug-dealing principal (Ernie Hudson). As hostilities escalate, and the teacher calls in his mercenary buddies to take on Hudson's private army, the film degenerates into a hilariously surreal third act of open combat in the school corridors. When the shooting stops, the students get back their drug-free school, which now looks like a hotel in downtown Beirut. Unfortunately the screen time of Venora, who is the best thing in the movie, is severely limited. Berenger uses two expressions in the film: a sheepish one for his scenes with Venora, and a surly mask for the rest of the film. Marc Anthony is effectively nasty as Hudson's right arm, and the talented Cliff de Young scores as a noxious drug kingpin.