Bullet Points: The Substitute 2: School’s Out
Rarely does a sequel that features totally different characters and actors live up to the original, but The Substitute 2 is one of those exceptions.
In 1998, Treat Williams’ Karl Thomasson took over the titular role of The Substitute from Tom Berenger’s 1996 Jonathan Shale. Williams was such a treat (Get It!) that he reprised his role in 1999’s The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All and 2001’s The Substitute: Failure Is Not an Option. The movies all exist in the same universe as Thomasson knows Shale and the character Joey 6 is the first two movies, albeit with different actors. Joey 6 even shows Thomasson a picture of Berenger as Shale in his wallet. You might think it is creepy to have a picture of another guy in your wallet, but it is perfect to connect the two movies together.
- School’s In: At a tough New York high school, Randall Thomasson (Christopher Cousins) is one of the good teachers, trying to teach the youth and help the kids stay out of trouble. When he tries to stop a crime, the Brotherhood (they actually wear hooded sweatshirts backwards with eye holes cut out) kill him. Randall’s personal motto of “negotiate don’t initiate” did not serve him well. Randall’s estranged brother Karl comes for the funeral and stays with Randall’s high school aged daughter Anya (Susan May Pratt.) Like his brother, Karl is a former Special Forces member, but he went into mercenary work, while Randall chose teaching. Karl quickly realizes that something is afoot and needs to infiltrate the school to find his brother’s murder. Enter the substitute.
- Brooklyn in the House: One of the best things about The Substitute 2: School’s Out is that is filmed on location in Brooklyn in an actual former high school. We don’t have to worry about seeing Vancouver, Toronto or a Hollywood backlot portraying any part of New York City. The streets scenes that are supposed to be New York are actually New York. The high school in the movie is Lenthrop High School which was at the time a vacant Brooklyn high school and gave the movie a more realistic backdrop than any sound stage could provide.
- Mr. Pair of What Ski?: Thomasson goes undercover as the substitute Mr. Frank Perakowski in his brother’s history class. The class is in Lenthrop High’s special students wing. These are the worst of the worst and the students and the special students wing reminds me of Eastside High School before Crazy Joe Clark cleaned it up. In order to get the attention of the students, Thomasson uses every skill in his repertoire, including hand to hand combat, throwing a stereo out the window, and yo-yo tricks. I have been known to use hyperbole when describing action films, but I am not exaggerating when I tell you that The Substitute 2: School’s Out features the greatest yo-yo as a weapon history lesson in the history of film. Thomasson displays several classic yo-yo tricks like walking the dog and rocking the baby, but he saves his best for the aptly names Sodaboy. When Sodaboy is drinking soda in class without bring enough for everyone, Thomasson uses the yo-yo to smash the glass bottle of Homeboy Mandarin-Mango Blazer pop right out of Sodaboy’s hand. Special recognition goes out to yo-yo choreographer Todd Depole.
- The Faculty Lounge: Only one other teacher knows about Thomasson’s true identity and intentions. Kara Lavelle (Michael Michele) is a former girlfriend of Randall and helps Thomasson in his efforts to catch his brother’s murder. How does she help? She helps get him in as a substitute and digs around in the high school files, and, oh yeah, she becomes his love interest after only a couple of days. She has a real thing for screwing Thomassons that teach. Warren Drummond (B.D. Wong) is the shop teacher, P.E. teacher, soccer coach and former Marine. Initially he is very helpful to Thomasson, but we soon come to realize there are criminal intentions behind his actions. Like most high school movies of any ilk, there needs to be a wise janitor. Johnny Bartee (Daryl Edwards) is the former Vietnam tunnel rat that moves through the school walls and has a war memorial and mini arsenal in the school’s boiler room. Thomasson confides his true identity with Bartee in order to use his expertise with the layout and access of the school. The teachers of the special students wing are ostracized by the other teachers and all sit at one table in the lounge. When Thomasson is introduced to the motley crew at the table, it reminds me of when Neidermeyer introduces Larry to Jugdish and the rest of the no chance Omega rushees.
- The Student Body: The Brotherhood has its influence all over the school. Many of the foot soldiers for the Brotherhood that are committing the crimes are students at Lenthrop. The head of the high school gang is Dontae (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) and his man cronies are Mase (Eugene Byrd) and Keyshawn (Camille Gaston.) While not a high school student, the leader of the Brotherhood is Little B (The Guru). Joey 6 guesses that the B stands for Balls. Little Balls, hysterical! Anya’s boyfriend Danny (Edoardo Ballerini) is interested in consoling Anya on the loss of her father by trying to get into her pants. Anya eventually realizes that Danny also has an intimate relationship with the death of her father. Another character that has a thing for screwing Thomassons.
- Boiler Room Brawl: Thomasson and Joey 6 attempt to bring down the Brotherhood at the school with help from Bartee. They end up in the boiler room with a fire fight where Little B gives up Drummond as the mastermind. It’s just not an action movie unless there is a fight in a boiler room. At least a high school needs a boiler room; I am looking at you, Val Verdian compound in Commando. The next day, Thomasson confronts Drummond in the middle of class and a fist fight ensues that spills out into the schoolyard. Thomasson gets his revenge by screwing Drummond. And by screwing I mean that he stabs him with a screw driver.
Extra Credit Bullet Points
- Have a Coke and a smile: There are several good one-liners and combacks, but the best quote comes from the janitor. After Bartee finds out that Thomasson is really Randall’s brother. “That’s one big bite of a shit sandwich. Want a pop?” Bartee pulls out two Cokes and lines the can up in his hand like a product placement expert. I am not sure if Coke wanted their product to be the best type of pop to wash down a shit sandwich.
- Air Show: Danny has an airplane propeller on the wall of his bedroom, no doubt bringing a smile to Treat Williams’ face. If you are not sure why, check out the book written by beloved motion picture and television actor Treat Williams and acclaimed picture book creator Robert Neubecker. It is a quick but enjoyable read for all ages.
- ‘Tis Autumn: Thomasson is outside of the high school a lot, walking, eating lunch, or talking with his niece in the park, and my guess is that it was at Treat’s request. The film was in late fall/early winter, giving Treat the chance to enjoy the “beautiful decay” that is dead leaves, a documented hobby of the star.
- Soundtraxx: Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out” (performed by Jeff Paris) appropriately plays during the opening credits of The Substitute 2: School’s Out.