Summer School (1987)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: No vacation this summer.

Freddy Shoop (Mark Harmon) is not happy about having to teach remedial English to nine students during the summer break. He was about to fly off to Hawaii with his girlfriend, but then got picked at the last minute to teach the class when Mr. Dearadorian (Carl Reiner) who normally teaches it wins the lottery and decides to quit his job. At first Freddy lets the kids goof around and even takes them on a few field trips, but when his tenure gets threatened unless all the kids pass the test he decides he better take it seriously and make deals with the kids to do the same.

The biggest surprise here was finding that Mark Harmon could actually be funny. He was the son of a former Heisman Trophy winner and a quarterback himself at UCLA during the 70’s who I always felt had the doors open for him in the acting biz simply because of his chiseled good looks and nothing more. I remember first watching him in the 80’s TV-show ‘St. Elsewhere’ and finding him to be quite boring there and yet here he shows a whole new side of himself and in a lot of ways is the most engaging thing about the movie.

The film also manages to avoid the pitfalls of other 80’s comedies by not aiming for the gross out, sophomoric humor that permeated so many other teen films from that decade. Everything here is surprisingly restrained and in a lot ways this helps to make it funnier because it keeps things at a more realistic level. It’s also great to see a teen film that doesn’t deal with the generation gap or portray the adults as being overly stuffy, or out-of-it as Harmon comes off as being just as cool as the students.

While the film does have its share of amusing moment, with the driving lesson that Harmon gives to one of his students (Kelly Jo Minter) being the funniest, there are a lot of potential comic ideas that it never follows through on, which limits it from being as funny as it could’ve been. It also never bothers to explain where Harmon’s car keys were as one of the students took them on the first day forcing Harmon to go looking for them, but never shows how he found them, or where they were hidden.

The character of Chainsaw (Dean Cameron) I felt was a bit on the lame side. For one thing he looks too old for a high school student and was in fact already 24 when he played the part, but what annoyed me more was his obsession with the movie The Texas Chainsaw MassacreNow don’t get me wrong it’s a great movie, but it’s also very well known and obvious. It’s not all that gory either and it was the gore factor that supposedly his character like the most. If the kid was a true horror fan then he’d be aware of the obscure horror movies that the others wouldn’t be and if gore was truly his thing then the Italian giallo films would be more likely something that he’d obsess over.

The film’s feel-good ending in which Harmon is able to reach and inspire each student in some way hurts the film by not portraying the teaching profession in a realistic way. There will always be those students that a teacher will not be able to reach no matter how hard they try, which is one of the more frustrating aspects about the job, but the film never bothers to tackle this issue. Some may argue that this would’ve hurt the otherwise lighthearted tone, but good movies are able to sneak in serious side-issues and still make it work and the fact that this one doesn’t makes it glossy and forgettable.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 22, 1987

Runtime: 1 Hour 37 Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Carl Reiner

Studio: Paramount

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

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