Movie review: ‘Summer School’

ssAs we speed to Labor Day in about three weeks (as of the date of the original posting of this blog entry), there’s enough time left in summer for one of those breezy and light films so easy to watch this time of year. “Summer School” with Mark Harmon and Kirstie Alley isn’t great (actually, barely manages being good) but has some interesting characters and won’t challenge your intellect. There are a bunch of simply horrible “summer” films – try “Corvette Summer” (click here for my review) and hold on to your stomach – but this isn’t one of them. Give “Summer School” a chance and you won’t be sorry.

‘Summer School’
(1987; 97 minutes; rated PG-13; directed by Carl Reiner and starring Mark Harmon, Kirstie Alley and Robin Thomas Grossman)

IT’S THE TEACHING AND NOT THE TEACHER

(NOTE: I expanded this review with additional opinion as well as updating some links on Feb. 2, 2016.)

It’s easy to like “Summer School.” Both Mark Harmon and Kirstie Alley are likable and do a good job; the villain is appropriately bad without being too sleazy; and while some of the students are stereotypes, a few are actually interesting and the actors give more than you’d expect. All in all, it’s light summer puff but you never find it objectionable.

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Summer School” isn’t a beach movie, although it has beach scenes, and it isn’t about complete delinquents as these students just enjoy screwing around by not studying and thereby frustrating authority. So, it’s not a “Beach Party” (click here for my review) nor is it a “Grease.” It doesn’t aspire to greatness, but you’ll enjoy the hour-and-a-half you’ll spend on it.

Summer School” is just what the title says: summer school time has arrived at at “Oceanfront High School.” The teacher who’s supposed to ride herd on a class of dummies for the summer wins a scratch-off lottery and bolts. The nasty assistant principal in charge blackmails the slacker phys-ed teacher into the summer classroom and the hilarity begins.

Harmon, who has done everything from a very scary Ted Bundy in the TV movie “The Deliberate Stranger” to his signature role on TV’s “NCIS,” is outgoing and fun here as “Freddy Shoop.” He’s able to express a couple levels in his acting and you’ll enjoy watching him. If not, try him in “The Presidio” (click here for my review), “Stealing Home” or “Freaky Friday” (“The Presidio” is the best by far; Harmon’s second best acting behind his ultimate effort in “The Deliberate Stranger”).

As Harmon’s love interest, Alley does a straightforward job as “Robin Elizabeth Bishop,” a teacher of an honors class who’s slowly drawn into Harmon’s life. She doesn’t want to at first (she’s dating the evil assistant principal), but cannot avoid the inevitable. Alley has been in “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (click here for my review), “Look Who’s Talking” and its two sequels and a variety of TV series including her signature role as “Rebecca Howe” in the mega comedy “Cheers.” Her work here isn’t her best, but it isn’t bad and that’s all you can ask of an actor in a film like this.

The students get introduced through the credits as they get their notices to appear in a classroom to be told they’ll be going to summer school. While there are stereotypes (a pregnant student; a geek; and the somewhat dumb jock), there’s also a few interesting ones: the two horror flick fans (one called “Chainsaw”), the dyslexic student, the boy who moonlights as a stripper and the surfer-girl slacker who’s very Zen-like in her philosophy.

Here’s a rundown:

  • Courtney Thorne-Smith plays “Pam House,” the surfer girl and does an adequate job in a role that’s not demanding. She’s also been in films like “Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise” but has made her career in TV on shows such as “According to Jim,” “Melrose Place” and “Two and a Half Men” (both in the good seasons and some after the addition of the talentless and annoying Ashton Kucher).
  • Dean Cameron is “Francis ‘Chainsaw’ Gremp” and Gary Riley is “Dave Frazier” and the two are horror film gore addicts who are obsessed with “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (the original, of course since this was released in 1987 and the sequel had come out the year before) and the Italian exchange student in the class. Both are equally good here and maybe should have had their own sitcom based on these characters. Cameron was in “Men at Work” and “Ski School” while Riley was in “Stand by Me,” “Back to the Future” and “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”
  • Kelly Jo Minter plays dyslexic “Denise Green” and Richard Steven Horvitz plays “Alan Ekian,” the nerd who isn’t too brainy. Both do good jobs, but Horvitz doesn’t have much to work with and Minter is just brash enough to give some substance to her character. Minter was in “The Lost Boys” (click here for my review) and “Mask” while Horvitz was in “Snow Dogs” and a string of TV shows and a bunch of video game and animation voice overs.
  • Ken Olandt plays “Larry Kazamias,” who is a male stripper at night and sleeps during class. Olandt, who was in “April Fool’s Day” and a string of TV roles, is one-dimensional but it is a good one-dimension. I guess.
  • Rounding out the students is Patrick Labyorteaux as football player “Kevin Winchester, Shawnee Smith as the pregnant “Rhonda Altabello” and Fabiana Udenio as sexy exchange student “Anna-Maria Mazarelli.” Forget ‘em. Nothing special going on here.

The two most interesting supporting roles are by Robin Thomas Grossman, who plays “Vice Principal Philip Gills” and is appropriately staid, priggish and back-stabbing against Harmon; and director Carl Reiner, who plays teacher “Mr. Dearadoian” who quits when he wins the lottery (“They’re friggin’ idiots,” he yells when told that some lottery winners keep on working).

Grossman was in “The Banger Sisters” and “Pacific Rim” while Reiner has been in the remake of “Ocean’s Eleven” and its sequels (click here for my review of the remake – click here for my review of “Ocean’s Thirteen”) as well as TV shows such as “House, M.D.” and “Hot in Cleveland.” As a director, Reiner has guided films including “Oh, God!,” “The Jerk” and “Summer Rental.”

Another supporting actor worth mentioning is Tom Troupe, who plays the judge in the boozing on the beach case against Cameron and Riley. He does a really neat job because he’s able to be smooth but strict and doesn’t take himself seriously. The courtroom scene is the best in the entire film for the boys. Troupe was also in one of my personal favorites “Kelly’s Heroes” (click to read my review) as well as “The Devil’s Brigade” and “My Own Private Idaho.” His acting resume of 66 credits has some gaps (notably between 1998 and 2012), but he will be in “Caravaggio and My Mother the Pope” that comes out later this year. Troup’s first is from “The Kaiser Aluminum Hour” on TV in 1957 and he will turn 88 on July 15, 2016.

Despite a summer curriculum that includes trips to the petting zoo, an amusement park and the beach, everything works out in the end for everyone except Grossman. The storyline closures are actually pretty good, including the pregnant girl giving up her child for adoption and the climax in the principal’s office where the students learn their test scores.

If you’re looking for some mind candy that has a smidgen of depth, give “Summer School” a try or try it again.

Summer School” made $35.6 million at the box office in 1987 and was the 32nd ranked film of that year, according to Box Office Mojo. The No. 1 film of the year was “3 Men and a Baby” with $167.7 million. The most recent film from that year that I’ve reviewed is “Mannequin” (No. 27 with $42.7 million – click here for my review). Other films from that year that I’ve reviewed include:

Additional cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):

  • Directly from IMDb.com: “The Hawaiian shirt that Mark Harmon wears is the same exact Duke Kahanamoku model Montgomery Clift wears in “From Here To Eternity.”
  • Harmon wears red Ray-Ban sunglasses in the film.
  • Paramount Pictures has tried to get a project rolling to do a remake of “Summer School,” but the last one, reportedly in 2012, didn’t pan out. Actually, this is one film where I wouldn’t mind seeing filmmakers do it again.
  • The school used for filming here was the one used to film “The Karate Kid.”
  • Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “The casting of Mark Harmon in the lead major role was the idea of director Carl Reiner. Reiner has said: ‘We originally discussed having a major comedian for the role. However Mark impressed me very much in the mini-series The Deliberate Stranger (1986) in which he portrayed convicted murderer Ted Bundy. When I saw him being interviewed on a news program, he was so personable and had such a winning smile that it was clear he would be well suited for the role of our gym-coach turned instructor. And he brings surprising depth to the character.’”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014, 2015, 2016.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material
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and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used,
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