Monday, January 4, 2010

Film Review: THE PRINCIPAL (1987, Christopher Cain)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 109 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Directed by Christopher Cain (YOUNG GUNS, THE NEXT KARATE KID). Starring James Belushi, Michael Wright (STREAMERS, THE WANDERERS), Lou Gossett, Jr. (FIREWALKER, IRON EAGLE, JAWS 3-D), Rae Dawn Chong (TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE, HIGHBALL), Esai Morales (FREEJACK, LA BAMBA).
Tag-line: "Rick Latimer had nothing to lose...until he was given the one job nobody else dared take."
Best one-liner: "Lighten up! Have some courage. Brave it through a little bit. Knives only hurt if they go through you. Urine only smells if you don't clean it up. Come on!"

Once there was this guy, this teacher (James Belushi), who possessed a steadfast resolve, an ironclad constitution, and a giant ball bat. Sometimes he would get so worked up about the state of things that he would destroy a Porsche or go to a bar before it opened, stack a bunch of rocks glasses into a pyramid, and knock 'em down in frustration.

He's also the kind of guy who'd ride a motorcycle down a school hallway if the situation called for it.

Anyway, this teacher screwed up one time too many, so the the smartass powers that be decided to promote him to principal at Brandel High.

For those not familiar, Brandel is that high school where the faculty (including gutsy waif Rae Dawn Chong)

is held in the grip of terror by a gang of 30-year old kids with fringe jackets and Lionel Ritchie mullets. Belushi's retort: "NO MORE."

He commences to whip the students into a frenzy, say things like "They're gonna like you in prison, Victor, you might even get a surprise up that wise little ass of yours," and breaks up a drug deal by driving by on his motorcycle with his ball bat and smashing their Coors Lights and their crack baggies (in that order). He teams up with the head of security, Lou Gossett, Jr.

(who had tempered the hubris of an Oscar win with the embarrassment of JAWS 3-D and FIREWALKER), and they raise holy hell in the name of literacy, straight-talk, and NO MORE. In short, this movie is terrific.

Now, there are a few nagging questions here:

#1. If the students are not afraid of committing rape, robbery, and murder, then why do they show up to class? (See: CLASS OF 1984, THE SUBSTITUTE, et al.)

#2. How is it possible that Golan and Globus had nothing to do with this production?

Perhaps a villainous Jheri curl link between Michael Wright here and Mario van Peebles in EXTERMINATOR 2?

And #3. Why isn't this movie called "El Principal?" (The name the Cholo mechanics respectfully airbrush on Belushi's hawg and helmet). Well, THE PRINCIPAL doesn't care. And by extension, I don't either. My only regret is that they never made one of these flicks starring Bob Mitchum. But this is a solid (and surprisingly serious, at times) entry in the genre. Four stars.

-Sean Gill


J.D. said...

Heh, I remember seeing this movie when it came out in theaters! It was pretty good with the final showdown in the lock room/showers (I believe) being fairly suspenseful.

Ah, the days when Belushi actually played something resembling a badass before he went all cuddly sitcom on us. I just watched SALVADOR again last night and was shocked at how good he was in that film. He really needs to hook up with Oliver Stone again... or Michael Mann.

Sean Gill said...

Seriously, between this, RED HEAT, SALVADOR, THIEF, etc. one gets the idea that he could have had a much more interesting career given a few different choices. You gotta wonder how great would it have been if he'd had a few Cannon action vehicles (á la Norris, Bronson, Dudikoff, et al) in his filmography?

I still haven't seen any of the K-9 series (which I'm not really holding out hope for) or WILD PALMS (which I have in the queue).

J.D. said...

He was good in WILD PALMS which is kinda underrated. Yeah, it's TWIN PEAK-lite but still interesting with some fascinating directors helming various episodes. Dang, I really need to pick this up on DVD, pronto.

I agree with you that it would have been interesting to see Belushi in some Cannon films or in a few more Walter Hill films.