Summer School (1987)

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Before kicking major butt on NCIS, Mark Harmon put some butts in the seat in this funny comedy from the late Carl Reiner.

Freddie Shoop is a high school gym teacher who is ready to go on vacation for the summer. However, he finds himself in the shock of a lifetime when he is forced to teach summer school and on top of that, it’s remedial English. Vice Principal Giles informs Shoop if he doesn’t take the job, he will ruin his chance of getting tenure. Shoop is in for an unforgettable summer, but it starts out well when he meets history teacher Robin Bishop.

Freddie learns his class includes football player Kevin, nerdy Eakian, tough Denise, the narcoleptic Larry, pregnant Rhonda, surfer Pam, and horror film fanatics Chainsaw and Dave. At first things don’t go as planned as Shoop doesn’t even care about being there. However, knowing his job is at stake, he makes a deal with the kids in hopes they will study hard and pass the exam. This includes doing “favors” for each student. This helps Shoop and the students until they attempt to get more favors and in the midst of it all, Shoop decides to quit out of frustration. Will the kids get past their greed and help their teacher as well as themselves?

When it comes to 1980’s comedies, there have been greats like John Hughes, Bob Clark, and many others. There are also legends such as Carl Reiner, who passed away this week and here, he directs from a screenplay by Jeff Franklin (who would create one of the 80s greatest sitcoms, Full House, and its sequel series Fuller House) that is a wild ride into what happens when a teacher is forced to teach summer school to get his tenure. However, what Reiner does as well is give a bit of backstory to the students, so we get a full understanding of why they are they way, well, they are.

Before kicking butt on the hit series NCIS, Mark Harmon gets to show funny side in the role of Freddie Shoop, a gym teacher who is forced to teach summer school when the original teacher quits after winning $50,000 on a scratch off. Oh, and playing that very teacher is film director Reiner himself in a cameo. Robin Thomas, who plays the slimy Vice Principal Giles, is the type of villain meant for this film, someone who can’t handle Shoop and knows he’s not exactly English teacher material, blackmails him into teaching to get his tenure. Kirstie Alley’s Robin finds herself in the midst of a love triangle as she is dating Giles while Shoop has a complete crush on her and lets her know throughout the film, in one of the film’s running gags by asking her out to dinner consistently.

The students of the film are definitely eclectic and make the film a fun and wild ride. Dean Cameron’s Chainsaw and Gary Riley’s Dave are the horror fanatics who for teens, are quite nifty in special effects make-up, which come in handy for a hilarious yet gross-out prank. Or two. Shawnee Smith’s Rhonda is pregnant and finds herself having a not-so-secret admirer in football player Kevin, played by Patrick Labyorteaux, who three years later would re-team with Cameron on the hilarious Canadian comedy Ski School. Richard Steven Horvitz’s nerdy Alan Eakian is both the brunt of jokes but shows a good natured “I can take it” vibe that eventually makes the others respect him.

Kelly Minter’s tough talking Denise finds herself having to put her walls up, but her story faces a real dilemma when something about her is revealed, making it all realistic along with some of the others. Courtney Thorne-Smith’s Pam starts out the dreamer then finds herself having a bit of a crush on Shoop, and her favor may seem cringeworthy but when her story is revealed, it makes sense and Shoop reminds her that it can’t progress as she hopes. There’s also foreign exchange student Anna Maria, played by Fabiana Udenio, who befriends of all people, our horror film duo. Finally, there’s Ken Olandt’s Larry, who spends most of the film sleeping during the day and when we learn why that is, it’s a bit of a shock. However, it is great to see teacher and students change in their ways as a united front to show that bite in the a** Giles a thing or two.

Summer School is a fun ride of a film that not only has hilarious antics and a bit of gross-out horror style pranks, but the film does show how an unlikely teacher and his students are forced into a situation and they all change throughout the course of the summer to get ahead. A great film from the late Carl Reiner.

WFG RATING: A-

A Paramount Pictures production. Director: Carl Reiner. Producers: George Shapiro and Howard West. Writer: Jeff Franklin; story by Franklin, David Dashev, and Stuart Birnbaum. Cinematography: David M. Walsh. Editing: Bud Molin.

Cast: Mark Harmon, Kirstie Alley, Robin Thomas, Patrick Labyorteaux, Courtney Thorne-Smith, Dean Cameron, Gary Riley, Kelly Minter, Ken Olandt, Shawnee Smith, Richard Steven Horvitz, Fabiana Udenio, Frank McCarthy, Carl Reiner.

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