The 80′s was the golden age of crappy movies set in high schools. Most of them starred actors in their late 20′s pretending to be 18 and the action of the films centered on their coming of age or whatever. What’s different about Summer School is that the main character is a teacher, Mr. Shoop, played with awesome slacker ease by Mark Harmon. Teachers in films are usually portrayed as heroes that teach kids to love learning. That’s not really the case with Summer School. Sure, the kids get it together enough to pass the test, (some of them), but none of them are going to start writing poetry or anything like that. This film celebrates the mediocre teacher and the loser student and God bless it for doing so.
The film takes place at a crappy high school in LA near the beach. Mr. Shoop, (Harmon), is the cool dude surfer gym teacher who is forced into teaching remedial English summer school to a group of losers. The class is made up of the usual 80′s high school tropes: dumb jock, slutty girl, stereotypical nerd, guy who is secretly a stripper, pregnant girl, etc. The two stand-outs are a pair of horror movie obsessed aspiring special effects artists named Dave and Chainsaw. At first, Mr. Shoop lets the kids do whatever they want but then he sees that they need to buckle down and study or else be losers for the rest of their lives. All the while Mr. Shoop is trying to get another teacher, played by Kirstie Alley back when she was hot, to go out with him. In the end he manages to get the kids to study for their exams so they won’t be held back. But they don’t all pass. In fact many of them fail badly. But all of the students improve somewhat which is apparently enough for the school to grant Mr. Shoop tenure. No Chainsaw left behind!
There are some truly amazing horror makeup sequences including some petting zoo bunnies run amok and a classroom abattoir. For all it’s schlockiness the movie was directed by Carl Reiner which shows in the way he visually tells the story. But the script is just plain old silly. Silly in a good way, but still silly. The dialogue is ridiculous, the plot is predictable, and the acting is way over-the-top. What is surprising is the fact that unlike many other films in the genre the triumph at the end is incomplete. A lot of the students do fail and are going to have to repeat the class. None of these kids has learned to love literature, only that they should put in just enough effort to pass…if they can. And Mr. Shoop is still not a very good teacher and is only really qualified to teach gym, only now he can no pretty much never be fired because of his tenure. But still, the scene where Chainsaw and Dave pretend murder the class is worse the watch. Oh, and a dog wears sunglasses.