Monday, March 15, 2010

Summer School (1987)

Directed by Carl Reiner
Starring Mark Harmon, Kirstie Alley, Shawnee Smith
Rated PG-13
USA

"Please take your seats."
"Where should we take 'em?"

Laid-back, surf-loving gym teacher named Shoop (Mark Harmon) is all set for a summer vacation in Hawaii with his young blonde girlfriend when he gets asked to teach English to a class of slow-learners who failed to make the grade that year because the teacher who was supposed to take the class (played by Director Carl Reiner) wins the lottery in an opening scene, thereby leaving the position vacant. Shoop is coming up for tenure and is more or less press-ganged into the job.

The class consists of a diverse mixture of underachievers and after a tough first class a deal is struck whereby the students will attend and work in exchange for help with each of their personal problems outside of class. For example, a pregnant single girl named Rhonda played by Shawnee Smith (star of the 'Saw' movies) needs a partner for her birth classes as the possible fathers (including David Lee Roth!) are not around. Meanwhile, laid-back and sexy surfer-chick Pam House, played by Courtney Thorne-Smith (Ally MacBeal, Melrose Place) has a crush on Shoop and wants to move into his home.

Also in the class is pretty Italian exchange student Anna-Maria Mazarelli (Fabiana Udenio, who also starred as Alotta Fagina in Austin Powers). Other noteable characters include a big guy who leaves class to use the lavatory but never returns, and a zany double act consisting of slasher-flick obsessed Francis "Chain Saw" Gremp (played byDean Cameron from Ski School/Ski School 2) and his slacker side-kick Dave Frazier (Gary Riley, who you may recognize from Stand By me).

During the tough first class, a female History Professor, Robin Bishop (played by Kirstie Alley from Cheers, etc) visits the classroom and Shoop falls for her although she does not welcome his advances and it transpires that she is already dating Shoop's nemisis, Assistant Vice-Principal Phil Gills, intensifying the rivalry between Shoop and Gills.

The movie includes sub-plots about each of the student bribes, including a hopeless driving lesson in which Shoop's car gets trashed, a party at Shoop's house which results in fire, and surfer chick Pam arriving on Shoop's doorstep hoping for a place to stay - cue a mis-timed visit by love interest Robin who gets the wrong idea and wrongly assumes that Shoop is having an affair with the student.

To cap it all off, Shoop even ends up in the jailhouse in his roller skates, wrongly accused of purchasing alcohol for minors attempting to help Chainsaw and Dave escape arrest for drinking in public. This provides a stand-out scene is when Chainsaw and Dave show their fake ID to the judge.

Other highlights include a class outing to a petting zoo/theme park, a day at the beach, and an in-class screening of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But when the school administration discover what has been going on, Shoop's days look numbered and a substitute teacher takes over the class. The delinquent class respond by staging their own version of a chainsaw massacre, utilizing novelty gore and horror movie props to great effect!



Shoop and the class realize they have grown close and the kids promise to do their best to pass the exam if Shoop comes back. They study hard and on the day of the exam the student who 'went to the lavatory' returns after being absent for the entire summer, stating "My zipper got stuck." The drama intensifies when pregnant student Rhonda goes into labor during the exam.
The movie skips to the day that the exam results are announced, the students, their parents and Shoop are on campus and it transpires that not all the students have made the grade, despite all making a vast improvement. As a result Assistant Vice Principal Gills wants to fire Shoop. However, the parents of the students come to Mr. Shoop's defense on the basis of the vast improvement of their offsprings' performance. At this point Principal Kelban (Francis X. McCarthy) agrees that this is the most important thing and grants Mr. Shoop tenure. As for the romantic sub-plot between Shoop and Robin? The movie ends with them laying together on the beach together, kissing in the surf.

To sum it all up this is a great movie and one of my favorite of that whole 1980s High School genre. Sure, it isn't the most fashionable, neither is it the zaniest, crudest, or most famous. In fact it is kind of dorky and unlike many other films in the genre (or on this website) there isn't any nudity.

However, with such an impressive line-up of future starlets such as Courtney Thorne-Smith, Fabiana Udenio and Shawnee Smith this makes the grade as a 'movie about girls'. The great casting , characters and various sub-plots keep the pace fast and fun to make this a timeless movie despite the overall predictability and 80s cheesiness. All in all this is a movie which doesn't pretend to be anything it isn't and delivers enough laughs and good vibes to make it a cult classic. To paraphrase Chainsaw and Dave, "it has plucky spirit and character....two thumbs up!".

The Soundtrack is good too and includes the Moviesaboutgirls.com playlisted "Mind Over Matter" by our favorite E.G. Daily, in fact the promo video starring the Summer School cast was an MTV hit at the time.




- Alex Eruptor

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