September 17th, 2008

CLASS OF 1999 (1990) ** ½

As a fan of Mark L. Lester’s Class of 1984, I thought I’d give this futuristic quasi-sequel a shot.  Whereas that film was all about good teachers battling depraved delinquent gang members, in this flick it’s the gangbangers who are the sympathetic ones.  Except this time the teachers are all cyborgs armed with mechanical claws, rocket launchers and flamethrowers.  It’s nowhere near as good as ‘84 but if you ever wanted to see The Terminator Meets Dangerous Minds, it’ll be worth a look.


The Escape from New York style opening informs us that gang warfare has reached such a frenzy that the cops won’t enter their “Free Fire Zones”.  The government wants to reopen the school in that district so principal Malcolm (A Clockwork Orange) McDowell hires albino Stacy (Body Bags) Keach to mop up the place.  Stacy busts out his pride and joy; three cyborg teachers to dispense knowledge and discipline to the delinquent student body.  Since they are all played by great genre vets like Pam (Foxy Brown) Grier, John P. (Death Wish 4) Ryan, and Patrick (The Substitute 4) Kilpatrick, seeing them administer corporal punishment to the kids is pretty damn amusing. 


But because the android teachers are actually government cybernetic soldiers at heart, it doesn’t take long before they start killing kids for minor infractions like being tardy to class.  One gangbanger named Cody (Bradley Gregg from A Nightmare on Elm Street 3) figures out their secret (He opens up their fridge and finds that it’s stocked full with nothing but WD-40.  I’m not kidding.) and unites the warring gangs to take out the teachers.


After a promising beginning, things get pretty monotonous during the extended gang war segments.  I liked the film better when the androids were administering spankings to the students and less when it was just a bunch of skuzzy looking riff-raff extras from Beyond Thunderdome running around dressed like Janet Jackson back-up dancers shooting the shit out of each other.  The flick ran on way too long but I did enjoy the ending where the unruly students blew up a good chunk of the school while battling the out of control automatons.  The gore was better than average and contained enough heart ripping, brain drilling, and people getting cut in half to keep me more or less entertained. 


While my heart sank as the film chased its tail with endless scenes of futuristic punks fighting each other, it was the excellent cast who saved the day.  First and foremost was Stacy Keach, who kicked all kinds of actorly ass as the designer of the cyborgs.  With his awesome albino mullet and pale ass eyes, Keach easily stole the show.  McDowell also did a nice job as the pansy principal and actually underplayed things for a change.  But really the film belongs to the teachers.  All three of them have their moments, but my favorite scene was probably when Kilpatrick as the psychotic phys ed teacher took out his frustration with his students on the wrestling mat.  Although the teachers get an A for effort, the rest of the film is wildly uneven.  Still, it's good enough for me to give it passing marks. 


A sequel, Class of 1999 2:  The Substitute followed four years later.