Bullet Points: The Principal
James Belushi is not going to be the first name that pops into anyone’s head when you say the words “action hero”. Belushi is not going to be confused with the larger than life action heroes like Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone. Belushi is not as athletically or aesthetically gifted as a Jean-Claude Van Damme or Michael Dudikoff. Belushi will never develop a badass reputation like Steven Seagal or Chuck Norris. And Belushi is never going to be compared with the old school tough guys like Clint Eastwood or Charles Bronson.
But Belushi is a fantastic reminder that an everyday guy can rise to the level of action hero when called upon. And James Belushi’s character receives the action hero call in the 1987 film The Principal.
- Stand and Deliver: In The Principal, James Belushi plays Rick Latimer. After an incident involving his ex-wife and her divorce attorney/boyfriend, costs Latimer his teaching job, he is reassigned as the principal of Brandel High, a high school filled with the worst of the worst. Many of the students at Brandel have been expelled from all the other area schools. Some are students who would be better categorized as thugs and juvenile delinquents. And there are students who due to lackluster, under paid teachers, have slipped through the cracks their entire scholastic career and find themselves unable to read or write. Latimer, who is at an all-time low personally and professionally, is in no position to turn down the job… but instead of just going with the flow like most of the staff at the school had been doing or throwing his hands up, Latimer takes a stand and institutes a simple “NO MORE!” policy. One of my favorite things about The Principal is that the action involved in this movie is fitting of the star. As I said at the top, Belushi is not your typical action hero, so I’m glad The Principal kept him in situations that are believable for Belushi and his character. No one is going to buy Latimer as a one man army and The Principal is wise enough not to try to sell him that way.
- Lean on Me: Louis Gossett Jr. plays the head of security at Brandel High, Jake Phillips. Phillips is a former professional football player and is more than willing to assist Principal Latimer in cleaning up Brandel High and ridding the school of the problems that have been plaguing it. The Oscar winning Gossett is perfectly cast in the role of Jake Phillips. If you are any kind of action hero who needs that guy who will challenge you at the right times, pick you up when you get knocked down and have your back when things get real, Louis Gossett Jr. is your man. If you don’t believe me just ask Doug Masters in Iron Eagle or Frank Castle in The Punisher (1989) or Billy Tepper in Toy Soldiers (1991).
- Dangerous Minds: Michael Wright plays Victor Duncan, the head creep at Brandel High. Duncan uses intimidation and ill gotten gains to poison the minds of many of the students. These students, thinking Duncan is their only way out of a life of minimum wage jobs with no future, do his bidding for him. IMDb trivia points out that since Belushi is playing the school’s principal and Wright is playing a student at the school, their characters ages don’t coincide with the actual age difference of the men playing them. It is my opinion that the disparity between their ages may not be as great as it would if we were comparing Latimer to your typical high school student. Think about it, if Victor Duncan has been building up his criminal empire this whole time and not concerning himself with things like homework and showing up for class, he may very well be the world’s oldest living freshman. Belushi was 33 at the time of the movie… Duncan could easily be in his mid 20’s if he never passed or it took him several times to move on to the next grade.
- The Substitute: After one of Brandel’s more popular teachers, Hilary Orozco (Rae Dawn Chong) is attacked and nearly raped by another one of the top miscreants in the school, White Zac (J.J. Cohen), Latimer fills in for her and teaches her history class until she is well enough to return to work. Latimer even takes the extra time to help a student that Ms. Orozco was teaching to read. Chong is another example of the quality casting in The Principal. Chong is convincing as a young teacher who has not become lethargic like many of her more experienced colleagues and actually has a genuine concern for the students and their education. The world needs more Hilary Orozcos.
If I had to give The Principal a letter grade I’d give it a B+. While it is not as action packed as some of the movies we review on the site, the lack of non-stop action is easily off set by some quality performances by all the major players in the film.
Since the dismissal bell has not rung yet, how about some extra credit Bullet Points for The Principal…
- Trick My Ride: After some of Duncan’s boys dismantle Latimer’s beloved motorcycle, Latimer’s bike gets rebuilt with a little something extra… the words “El Principal” airbrushed on it.
- Most Hated: The character I liked least was not one of the hoodlums that were running amok at Brandel High, but instead the incompetent weasel, Robert Darcy. Darcy is one of the members of Brandel’s faculty that has all but given up and pushes back on the changes that Latimer is making.
- Reprisal: Jim Belushi played a character named Principal Latimer in 1990’s Abraxas, Guardian of the Universe starring Jesse Ventura and Sven-Ole Thorson.
- Super Dad: The Principal was directed by Christopher Cain, who is the step father of the one and only Dean Cain. Christopher Cain also directed Young Guns and The Next Karate Kid.
- One Question: Why were the lockers at Brandel High positioned in the middle of the hallway instead of on either side?!