Treat Williams takes over for Tom Berenger in the first of three sequels to the action franchise, where education can be a deadly weapon.
When high school teacher Randall Thomasson is killed in an attempt to stop a carjacking, word has gotten to his brother Karl. Karl, a professional mercenary, arrives in Brooklyn for the funeral. Learning a gang called “The Brotherhood” is responsible, Karl believes something is not adding up. Having prior experience in education, Karl decides to go undercover as the history teacher, replacing his brother, to investigate.
To help with his investigation is Joey Six, a fellow mercenary who has been in a familiar situation as both Karl and Joey Six were friends with ex-mercenary Shale, who investigated the assault of his fiancée years ago. As Karl continues his investigation, he slowly gets through to an aspiring member of the Brotherhood and attempt to bond with his estranged niece Anya. He also befriends the janitor, who also had military experience. When Karl learns that the school has been doubled as a chop shop for cars, Karl is determined to put an end to things to avenge his brother.
1996’s The Substitute brought a new sense of authority into violence-ridden high schools and kept a cliché involving an expert with a military background becoming a substitute teacher. Now comes this sequel, which follows more of an original Kickboxer like motif, where a former associate of the original takes over as the new “teacher” and much like Sasha Mitchell’s David Sloane, Treat Williams’ Karl Thomasson takes over the franchise beginning with this sequel that is both action-packed with a bit of the fun. The good news here is that the reason why the formula works is two of the original creators return to write this follow-up.
As Karl, Williams does a good job at playing the at-first elusive hero, the estranged uncle and brother of a NYC high school teacher who died trying to do right. The film does reveal what came of original hero Shale, as it is revealed he took his experience from the original film and joined the Peace Corps. The character of Joey Six returns, but instead of Raymond Cruz, Angel David takes over the role in more of a pivotal role in this film rather than a background-like figure of the original.
B.D. Wong doesn’t get much screen time as one would think, but his character of Warren Drummond makes a very lasting impact in the film. Michael Michele makes the most of her role as fellow teacher Kara Lavelle, who seems to become a potential love interest for our hero. Eugene Byrd, as Mase, is pretty good as he finds himself conflicted at times after dealing with Karl on deciding whether to continue his life of crime or attempt to do something right. Look for a brief appearance by former martial arts action star turned stunt coordinator Chuck Jeffreys in a straight acting role as Willy, a garage owner who finds himself involved with the gang.
Williams handles himself well in the action sequences. From disarming a would be drive-by shooter by breaking his arm to using a yo-yo as a weapon in a demonstration in class, Williams would get a bit of an upgrade in the third and fourth films in terms of using more close quarter martial arts combat. While Williams gets to use some of that in the final act of the film, the next two films shows even more dedication from Williams in terms of action.
The Substitute 2: School’s Out is a really good sequel that brings a new hero to the mix and keeps the spirit of the original, thanks in part of the script and Treat Williams’ fun performance as the new teacher.
WFG RATING: B+
Live Entertainment presents a Dinamo Productions film in association with Gun for Hire Films and Shooting Gallery. Director: Steven Pearl. Producers: Bob Salerno and Morrie Eisenman. Writers: Roy Frumkes and Rocco Simonelli; based on characters created by Frumkes, Simonelli, and Alan Ormsby. Cinematography: Larry Banks. Editing: Mayin Lo.
Cast: Treat Williams, Michael Michele, B.D. Wong, Susan May Pratt, Edoardo Ballerini, Larry Gilliard Jr., Eugene Byrd, Camille Gaston, Chuck Jeffreys, Christopher Cousins.