On this episode of The Nightly Chill, we look at mid-90s action-thriller, The Substitute.


An 80s action movie unfortunately burdened with the fairly droll sensibilities of the 90s, The Substitute , from director Robert Mandel, features Tom Berenger as Jonathan Shale, a mercenary with a heart of gold who goes undercover at a Miami high school in order to seek revenge on the local gang who assaulted his fiancee.

HOW DO I REACH THESE KIDS

One part Stand and Deliver and two parts Kindergarten Cop, The Substitute ultimately fails to balance its low-budget action scenes and hackneyed revenge plot with a wholly unnecessary B-story in which Berenger’s character also learns the joys of teaching.

Because he’s not only undercover as a teacher, he also comes to connect with an entire classroom full of stereotypical (bordering on parody of) inner-city high school students.

Now, had the film been allowed to indulge in the insanity of its concept rather than taking itself far too seriously, The Substitute might have succeeded in being an entertaining bit of cheese. Instead, it comes off as an ironically straight-faced version of Jon Lovitz’ High School High.

Aside from some scene chewing by Ernie Hudson, there’s no passable bit of acting to be found in this movie. The movie crawls along at a snails pace. The action is hardly that. And there’s no attempt to really differentiate it from every other movie like it from that era.

BAD, BUT NOT BAD-BAD

That said, it could be argued that The Substitute isn’t an outright bad movie. Because while it manages to be both cringe-worthy and eye-rolling time and time again (including one of the least sexy or tender moments on film that involves a coat hanger and a full-leg cast), there’s still some fun to be had with the movie. To do so, simply turn your viewing of the movie into a drinking game with friends by taking a shot for every cliched lined, plot device, or ridiculous action a character takes. Do, however, take precaution as the most eagle-eyed player runs the risk of alcohol poisoning.

Fun aside, The Substitute is a sloppy and unoriginal collage of assorted tropes, plots, and characters blatantly ripped out of better films. In fact, The Substitute is little more than a no-budget remake of Dangerous Minds had Michelle Pfeiffer’s character also been a gun-toting psycho with a thirst for revenge.

ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

Whether or not you’ll actually enjoy any time spent with The Substitute will really be determined by two things: how much you enjoy unintentionally campy dramas set in a crime-infested high school where a teacher touches the hearts of his troubled students…and how much you enjoy cheesy thrillers with a paper-thin revenge plot.

If you are a fan of both, then you should definitely CHILL with The Substitute. That said, if you’re not a fan of either to some fair degree, avoid this one at all costs.

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