Judge David Johnson went to summer school to make up his lunch period.
School's out for the summer. Not! (Yeah!)
This decent little '80s slacker comedy double-dips into the digital tidepool. Is it worth a return field trip?
Facts of the Case
Mark Harmon stars as Mr. Shoop, a low-key high school gym teacher who cares more about surfing and wooing his blonde bombshell girlfriend on the beach than inspiring the minds of the nation's youth. His worst nightmare is realized when he's tagged as a last-minute summer school teacher for remedial English. Reluctantly, he complies and is tossed in with a class full of equally reluctant delinquents.
Aided by bodacious co-summer school teacher Robin Bishop (Kirstie Alley, Look Who's Talking), Mr. Shoop will try to teach this assortment of slackers, underachievers and sociopathic losers the meaning of academic rigor, even if it means breaking the heart of an enamored 16-year-old, teaching driving lessons, becoming a Lamaze coach, hosting a destructive Fourth of July party in his apartment and screening The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in class.
Not a shabby '80s beach flick, this, though I'm not sure it rises to the prominence of earning a cleverly-named double-dip (this release is called the "Life's a Beach" edition; har). Is Summer School really a film that fans clamored to shell out money for a re-release? It's an enjoyable way to pass the time but not revolutionary by a long shot.
First, a word or 12 about what you can expect on the reissue. Two retrospective featurettes highlight the bonus offerings: "Inside the Teacher's Lounge" and "Summer School yearbook." Both include interviews with select cast members, using newly recorded footage (man, the guy who played Chainsaw looks like my dad!) and vintage segments featuring on-set bits with the actors. The "Teacher's Lounge" is a general reminiscence and the "Yearbook" focuses on individual characters in the film. Both features are good and the actors' ruminations are nostalgic and insightful, though they could have easily been rolled into one mega-extra feature; then again that would be one less bonus to throw on the back of the disc case, and with double-dips you need to bring a nice, chunky box o' special features. Lastly, Mark Harmon and director Carl Reiner deliver a fawning commentary that allows them to fire out a few anecdotes. In the technical department, the 2.35:1 widescreen transfer of this release is different from 1.78:1 of the former, but the 5.1 surround mix remains. A negligible difference. So that's what awaits you potential adopters. Is it worth scoring the upgrade? As is my usual take on the double-dip phenomenon, if you've got the previous release, I don't see the handful of extras mandating another purchase, though fans of the film who are pondering the jump should snatch this one up, especially as it is priced about the same as the older release.
And for the minute sampling of you have somehow eluded the incessant Saturday afternoon airings on your local CW affiliate, here's my take. There is a lot of funny stuff here and the character arcs are sympathetic and legitimate charming. Mark Harmon shows his ability to anchor a film and it's kind of a bummer that he didn't do more big-screen work, though he did find ubiquitous success on the idiot box. The other main "grown-up" character is played by Kirstie Alley, and her character is mostly an object of Shoop's romantic pursuits, but man if she wasn't smoking in the '80s. We also get a taste of the comedic timing she would later hone in Cheers. The students are the real sellers of the story, representing all forms of loser-dom; standouts are Dean Cameron as the gore effects-obsessed Chainsaw (a character trait that pays off in the film's most memorable sequence), a young Courtney Thorne-Smith as naïve surfer chick Pam and Shawnee Smith as the soft-spoken pregnant teenager. But really, there isn't a clunker in the crew, though prolonged exposure to Richard Steven Horvitz's voice would be enough to force al qaeda detainees to give up the location of Bin Laden.
Good movie, decent disc, worth a look if you haven't seen it, worth a purchase if you don't own it, but save your lunch money if you've got the previous version.
Pass. (As in passing grade.)
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Mark Harmon and Carl Reiner
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