The Substitute

1996‘s The Substitute thought of arming schoolteachers with guns a few decades before the thought crossed Trump’s mind, thank you very much, and in movie-land at least it was somewhat successful. Of course, Tom Berenger is the teacher in question here, and he also happens to be a highly trained mercenary who’s just trying to protect his teacher girlfriend (Heat’s Diane Venora) from a raging band of psychotic cholo gangbangers led by Marc Anthony, of all people. It’s a silly premise given all the cheesy bells and whistles the 90’s had to offer, and could almost be considered a cult classic these days. Berenger’s Shale leads a colourful team of badasses including Raymond ‘Tuco’ Cruz (wearing a manbun before it was cool), Richard Brooks, Luis Guzman and volatile William Forsythe, back from a botched mission in Cuba and ready for the next one in urban high school territory. A few forged papers later, he’s a legitimized teacher who steps in for Venora and discreetly investigates who’s responsible for viciously attacking her and running drugs through the school. Not so discreet is the multitude of high powered shootouts that he finds himself in, eventually backed up by his men. I know this is an action film but so frequent are the bullet ridden dust ups that they kind of drown out some of the attempted social satire in deafening commotion. I enjoyed Ernie Hudson’s high school principal who moonlights as a nasty arch villain running the drug syndicate (of course it’s the principal) and Glenn Plummer’s heroic but short lived teacher who’s on Shale’s side of the moral compass. Marc Anthony has always been an incredible actor (see Man On Fire and Bringing Out The Dead) whose talents behind the camera exceed those in the recording studio, and he makes a wicked little street-shit scumbag here. A little less gunplay and a bit more pithy dialogue and tongue in cheek locking horns would have suited this one. Otherwise, it’s a neat little picture. I can’t speak for the sequels that find Treat Williams stepping in for Berenger, but who knows. Oh wow, I just googled it and there’s *three* more sequels with Williams. Not since Michael Gross in Tremors has an actor hijacked a franchise out of the original star’s hands.

-Nate Hill

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