Judge Patrick Naugle got a D- in Ontological Empiricism, so it's off to summer school with him!
At Ocean Front High, what do they call a guy who cuts classes, hates homework, and lives for summer vacations? Teacher.
"Fact: alcohol kills brain cells. You lose one more, you're a talking monkey."—The Wit and Wisdom of Freddy Shoop
Facts of the Case
Freddy Shoop (Mark Harmon, Chasing Liberty) is a man who wants only the simple things in life: his dog, his laid back job as a California high school P.E. teacher, and a trip to Hawaii with his attractive girlfriend. Unfortunately for Mr. Shoop, fun in the sun will have to wait. When the vice principal of the school, Mr. Gills (Robin Thomas, Clockstoppers), informs Freddy that to gain tenure he must teach an English class for summer school, Shoop finds himself in the midst of a group of students who seem hellbent on making the most of those hazy, lazy days of summer…even in the classroom! Adapting well to their attitudes (Mr. Shoop is, after all, a gym teacher), the Hawaiian T-shirt clad Mr. Shoop plans field trips to the zoo, the amusement park, and other enjoyable places where education is all but welcome. But when Gills gets a whiff of Shoop's lackadaisical teaching style, he informs him that to keep his job as a teacher he must get every child in his classroom to pass the final English exam! With the help of a neighboring classroom teacher (Kirstie Alley, Cheers) Shoop has his eye on and a little bargaining power with this kids, Freddy hopes to see all his students pass the class with flying colors…or find himself unemployed!
Rarely has a movie proved to be as funny as when I first saw it over 15 years ago. As a kid, I remember thinking that Summer School was a comedy for the ages—I laughed, laughed, and then laughed some more. Normally what we find funny at 11 years old isn't quite as good by the time we're 28. Not so with director Carl Reiner's Summer School. Here is a movie that retains its sense of anarchic fun all the way until the end credits roll.
This was the movie that made me feel like Mark Harmon was the coolest guy in the world. Mr. Shoop is the type of teacher you could only dream of having, especially if you were forced to take classes during the summer (and let's be honest, the phrase "summer school" is the most dreaded in all the English language). Harmon's pitch-perfect delivery sells almost every line in the film, as when one student asks what's in it for them by studying and Harmon shoots back, "Literacy?"
Equally as memorable are the supporting players. Dean Cameron (Bad Dreams) and Gary Riley (Stand By Me) play well off each other as "Chainsaw" and Dave, heavy metal stoners with a love for horror movies and a knack for creating over-the-top gross out special effects. Other standouts include Robin Thomas as the prickly Vice Principal Gills, a very young Courtney-Thorne Smith (Melrose Place) as one of Shoop's lovelorn students, and Kirstie Alley (before she became all weird and bloated) as Mr. Shoop's love interest.
As for the plot…well, it's fairly inconsequential. In a comedy like this, it isn't the storytelling that sells the film as much as the performances and colorful zingers. The situations that the students find themselves in—including filed trips to the zoo, partying at Mr. Shoop's pad, and bargaining their grades for favors from their teacher—are all well crafted and entertaining. Carl Reiner's direction isn't anything overtly special, but does the job that's required.
Could it be that I'm lavishing too much praise onto Summer School? Possibly. It could be that my memories of this movie make it all the more enjoyable—I guess someone seeing it for the first time in 2004 may not be quite as enamored with it as I am. But let me tell you something: when those kids put on the horror show to end all horror shows for one of their substitute teachers, watch it and tell me you couldn't help but get the giggles.
Summer School is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. I am very happy with how this transfer turned out. The colors and black levels are all solidly rendered and accurate. Aside from a small amount of softness in the picture (not surprising considering when the film was made), the picture is free of any major defects and dirt. While the image won't blow you away, fans of the film will surely find this transfer to be something worth smiling about.
The soundtrack is presented in a nice, newly remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English. While the only true surround sounds are the music by Danny Elfman (as well as the pop songs), the dialogue, music and effects are all clearly heard. Also included on this disc is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track in English and French.
Apparently, school's out for the summer, and so are the workers at Paramount's supplements department—not even a measly theatrical trailer has been included on this disc. Bummer, dude.
Summer School isn't the highpoint of 1980s cinema, but it does entertain. What more could you possibly be looking for in a movie about summers in sunny California? Paramount's work on this disc is good though the lack of extra features is, if not surprising, a real disappointment.
Summer School is a class worth taking.
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