The Substitute (1996) – Review

2 Stars

A mercenary goes undercover as a substitute teacher at a Miami high school where the principle, and the gang-bangers are running a drug ring. Tom Berenger stars as the merc and when his girlfriend is beaten by her students, he decides to take matters into his own hands. It’s part Rambo, Dangerous Minds, and Death Wish in a sometimes entertaining package that runs way too long. Latin crooner Marc Anthony makes a vivid impression as the leader of the teenaged gang.

Claude Rolle (Ernie Hudson) is a former cop, who now runs the roughest high school in the poorest section of Florida. His students are unruly, violent, and all seem headed for some lifestyle of criminal activity. Janie Hetzko (Diane Venora) is one of the school’s best teachers. She cares about the well being of her kids and pushes for the expulsion of Juan Lacas (Marc Anthony), whom she claims rules the institution. After insulting Juan she becomes the target of a vicious attack that leaves her temporality crippled.

Solider of Fortune John Shale (Tom Berenger) poses as Ms. Hezkto’s replacement in order to get revenge on the punks who hurt his lover. This puts him in direct conflict with Lacas and his thugs, who begin to realize the substitute is a dangerous man. Shale recruits his former team to battle a cartel that supplies the students with cocaine to distribute.

The C.I.A. meets the P.T.A. in this action thriller from the era of gangster rap and Blackboard Jungle remakes. The Substitute followed on the heals of the wildly successful Dangerous Minds, using that film’s momentum to capitalize at the box-office. This is a much different (though no less silly, really) movie that provides a certain catharsis from movies like Dangerous Minds. The following year Kevin Reynolds would take a more serious and artistic approach to similar material in the criminally underrated 187. The rare franchise in which the direct-to-video sequels are better than the theatrical release that kicked things off.

Director: Robert Mandel
Stars: Tom Berenger, Ernie Hudson, Diane Venora

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