The Substitute

1996, R, 110 min. Directed by Robert Mandel. Starring Tom Berenger, Ernie Hudson, Diane Venora, Glenn Plummer, William Forsythe.

REVIEWED By Joey O'Bryan, Fri., April 26, 1996

The Substitute can only hope to capitalize on the inexplicable success of last year's Dangerous Minds, despite being an even sillier white bread fantasy. Like that film, The Substitute features a militarily trained “Great White Hope” who manages to whip a classroom of trouble-making kids, mainly minorities, into shape against the pounding beat of a sure-to-go-top-40 rap soundtrack. However, unlike Dangerous Minds, The Substitute fancies itself an action-adventure, which means that the inevitable scenes of classroom moralizing mingle freely with fisticuffs and bloody shoot-outs as our hero karate-chops students during the middle of class and pitches handfuls of murderous gang members out windows. All the violence is justified by a ludicrous story line that's more than a little hard to swallow. Get this: After his schoolteacher girlfriend (Heat's Diane Venora, totally wasted in a nothing role) is crippled in an assault, her boyfriend, a currently out-of-work mercenary (Berenger, a long way from Platoon), goes undercover as a substitute teacher in her high school to find the young thugs responsible but, instead, uncovers a massive drug-smuggling operation run from the school's basement. Although the film's regressive tone and its clumsily handled racial politics are indeed reprehensible, The Substitute is just too ridiculous to take seriously, and so the movie is not as offensive as it is hilarious. Particularly funny is the rampant miscasting that plagues the project. Berenger looks especially silly as he kicks and punches his way through a seemingly endless string of poorly choreographed fight sequences and tries desperately to keep a straight face, even while muttering supposedly emotionally charged lines like “Yeah… I've lost some homeboys.” Exploitation fans will be disappointed to see that Roy Frumkes, who wrote the incredible cult favorite Street Trash and directed the excellent documentary Document of the Dead, and Alan Ormsby, who collaborated with Bob Clark on his forgotten classics Deathdream, Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things, and Deranged, were partly responsible for The Substitute's abysmal screenplay.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Tom Berenger Films
Faster
Dwayne Johnson is an ex-con out to avenge his brother's death and Billy Bob Thornton is the junkie cop on his tail.

Marc Savlov, Nov. 26, 2010

Training Day
“This is important. Don't blow it,” wife Lisa (Ayanna) tells her rookie cop husband Jake (Hawke) at the outset of his first day as neighborhood ...

Marc Savlov, Oct. 5, 2001

More by Joey O'Bryan
The Legend of Drunken Master
A classic chopsocky mixture of action and comedy, capped by a ferocious 20-minute finale.

Oct. 19, 2000

Iceman Cometh

Aug. 30, 1996

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The Substitute, Robert Mandel, Tom Berenger, Ernie Hudson, Diane Venora, Glenn Plummer, William Forsythe

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle