Inner-city school films were rather popular during the mid to late nineties, but before Dangerous Minds, The Substitute, and 187 were their eighties predecessors: Lean on Me, Stand and Deliver, and The Principal. Originally released in 1987, The Principal stars James Belushi (Rick Latimer), Louis Gossett Jr. (Jake), and Rae Dawn Chong (Ms. Orozco).
After attacking his ex-wife's date with a bat, teacher Rick Latimer is "promoted" to principal by the school board. However, he'll be reassigned to Brandel, an inner-city school referred to most as a dumping ground for students not wanted elsewhere. Though he resists at first, Rick decides to genuinely attempt to change the school for the better by enforcing his simple rule of "no more." Unfortunately, his new policy is bad for gang business and might end up costing him his life.
While most inner-city exploitation films fall squarely the drama category, The Principal tries to be more action-oriented. James Belushi unquestionably holds the film together and pulls off a fairly serious performance, though he does manage to infuse the role with a few bits of comedy. Louis Gossett Jr. contributes little to the film as the head of security and it boggles the mind how Rae Dawn Chong got another role after Commando. The film is also quite predictable, suffers a bit from a feel-good ending, and really avoids commenting on the social issues it brings up.
The Principal is presented in 1.33:1, which is cropped from its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Several scenes do feel slightly cramped, especially a few of the motorcycle sequences that don't look quite right. The transfer has some noticeable specks and grain, as well as a fair amount of edge enhancement. The print also appears faded in several areas. Colors are natural with accurate flesh tones and decent blacks.
The Principal is presented in Dolby 2.0 Surround in English and Dolby 2.0 Stereo in French. Surround use, for the exception of the film's music, is rather infrequent and occasionally, the effects sound hollow. Dialogue is clean throughout, with no distortion that I detected. Optional subtitles are also available in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese.
Trailers for this film, Race the Sun, and St. Elmo's Fire are included.
While there are certainly better films in the 'inner-city school' subgenre, The Principal makes for a fairly entertaining view, particularly for fans of James Belushi, though it is not without some flaws. Columbia/Tri-Star really hasn't done much with the DVD, making this one more suited to a rental, rather than a purchase.