Friday, 13 December 2013

The Substitute (1996)

Coming along some five years after the similar themed 'Toy Soldiers', two films about schools under fire from criminals. I guess that's about as far as the similarities go though as this is an undercover mission for some mercs/Nam vets where as the other film was terrorists taking over the school.

So a nasty messed up city high school is plagued by drugs, weapons and bad eggs, what is the Principle to do?? Hire a badass killer merc of course, but the thing is he doesn't know the sub is a badass killer merc. So both the yobbish kids and the staff have no clue this guy is an ex-Nam hardass. As things progress for the Berenger the merc he finds out all is not what it seems.

A perfect role for the stoic butch looking Berenger who can play military types till the cows come home. Not much is required of him really, beating the kids down, killing drug dealers, being a smartass...all in a days work. His little tight nit group of mercs are a cool bunch, a young Luis Guzman, the insane William Forsythe, military action flick regular Ray Cruz and Richard Brooks. A really good team of character actors that are great fun to watch, its just a shame we don't more of them in action together.

Most of the film is a huge stereotypical montage of standard scenarios you can see coming a mile away. Its all very predictable and you know Berenger will never get hurt. Its undeniably fun to watch these sequences where the youths are acting up with their gangland dialect, waving their hands around making gang signs, virtually behaving like cartoon characters whilst being dressed like bums. At the same time all the girls looks greasy, sweaty and thoroughly unwashed, need I say almost all the youths are black, Latino or Hispanic. Yep this film doesn't beat around the bush with racial attitudes towards suburban inner city schools in the US.

So yes you could say its racist and a bad image on certain groups of young people but dare I say could it also be the truth? That aside its still a rush to see Berenger humiliate the posers and stamp his authority on the class. I must also say Marc Anthony is really well cast as the slimy skinny gangland leader within the class, a simmering undertone ready to pop. You really do dislike this guy as the plot builds, you know Berenger could kick his ass but he still has that ominous presence, plus the fact he's only suppose to be a teen makes him even more annoying when he gets all mouthy.

The whole thing is pretty hokey and like I said before it is very predictable. The finale shoot out within the school is cool though no doubt about that, although I would have preferred if the bad guys had brought lots of gang thugs to the battle instead of their special ops guys. That kinda dismisses the fact the good guys are a special ops team, its suppose to be mercs vs drug dealing thugs.

Still its very cool to see all of Berenger's mercs kick ass in their own unique way. A final kudos to Ernie Hudson as the shifty principle of the school, his performance isn't much better than his hammy role in 'Congo' but that's why its so good. Definitely a bit of an adrenaline rush at times with this one, I think everyone has had fantasies about kicking the crap out of their old school bullies at some point. This would probably be a step too far but I'm sure being a badass merc teaching out of control youths a lesson would still be right up there.