Ah, B movies. I can't wait until I'm able to make them...
In [u]The Substitute 2: School's Out[/u], an idealistic teacher (Christopher Cousins) dies at the hand of High School age thugs, and his special forces brother (Treat Williams) goes undercover at the school where he taught to avenge him. (I'd say "find out who did it," but come on, it's a gang shooting while he was trying to break up a robbery. Do you really need to find out who did it? This movie manages to weave a mystery in there to explain it, but let's face it, that whole thing is really unnecessary. Dude's brother got offed, he just wants to ferret out the killer and kick his ass). I love the simplicity of that plot so much, there's no need to explain it further, really, because everything else is just gravy. That's what it's about, so that's all the plot summary I'm going to give you.
What I'm going to tell you instead is what I liked about this, and in some ways, all B movies. This is a simple, straight-forward action movie, and unapologetically so. Had it been better made, it would have been great, and to me, therein lies the appeal of the B movie. B movies are genre pics designed to make money. Unlike the independent film, they don't have to be dramas or show any great talent. They just need to be entertaining, so simplicity is good. And they usually have some built in commercial element that they can exploit, be it sex, violence, a combination thereof, stunt casting, or in this case, franchising, as this is the direct to video sequal to Robert Mandel's 1996 film. But whereas that was a mainstream Hollywood film, that probably sucked, but pretended like it was an actual movie, a movie like this isn't hiding what it is - in fact, it's selling what it is. And as a result, it has a level of freedom (to suck) that other movies don't have. And that's what I love most about B movies.
But what I found very interesting about this particular film is that it really illustrated to me the power of the action genre. Because when Treat Williams's character gets into that classroom, wooden acting and all, you're just waiting for the shitty action sequence in which he teaches these kids who's boss. As I found myself actually rooting for that inevitability, I was struck by the way the action movie format lends itself to this. The central cliche of every action movie, of the indominitable action hero, works in and of itself. Regardless of the poor execution of this movie, I still wanted to see it happen. It's a pretty amazing thing.
What's even more amazing to me are all of the other things you will always observe when watching an exploitation movie, namely, what's good about it. What's good about this movie is the basic story, Michael Michelle, the heavy handed but good-hearted attempt to give it a "the ghetto sucks but you have choices" message, the production values, and Susan May Pratt.
I talked about the story, so some comments about Michael Michelle. First of all, this woman is almost as beautiful as Vanessa Williams, but what struck me was that this film is about nine years old. Her entire career went to waste. She's 41 now, was a great actress, and a beautiful woman. Did she ever become a big star? No. And they say there's no racism. Regardless of whether you believe she was actually discriminated against, the reality, which many will tell you, is that there are almost no good roles for Black actresses. This is why we barely see Angela Bassett doing anything. Seeing Michael Michelle in this film was a sobering reminder of that.
The heavy handed script is an example of what I was talking about earlier: there is no reason for this film to be written at a fifth grade level, as far as I know. What I mean by that is, the script here is weak because that's who they could afford to hire to write it. However, if the producers took their time, they could find, I'm sure, some completely unsigned and unknown talent who actually could have done a better job (yours truly being one ;). To me, this is where B studios are missing out. Find the Quentin Tarantinos of tomorrow and give them their first break. Roger Corman did it all the time. I admired these guys for trying, but I know there's somebody out there working in a hovel who could have knocked it out of the park.
With the money they spent on this film, I could have made a great version of this movie. As I just said with the screenwriting, it's all in the direction. There are Robert Rodriguez type guys out there, many of them in film schools, who could take a no budget action movie and make it exciting. Jim Cameron was like that before the B production company Corolco gave him the chance to show how good he was. Again, look for and find those guys and gals and you've got something.
And finally, Susan May Pratt is a good actress. Period. She was good in this film, she's been good in other films; having her was a real bonus. I can't stress enough that B is a good place to develop new talent and use talent that aren't working to capacity. This town is full of talented people who aren't doing anything - find the ones willing to check their egos at the door, and you could make some great shit. Have budget, have potential.
And that's what this movie was: a lot of wasted potential. But I didn't expect it to be any more than that anyway. It's not a perfect film, by any stretch, but it's far from the worst B movie I've ever seen. And most importantly, as is the case with most B movies I see, I had a lot of fun watching it. Not for everybody, but as B movies go, this is not a bad one.