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Summer School

Paramount // PG-13 // June 1, 2004
List Price: $14.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 10, 2004 | E-mail the Author
Those who can't do, teach; those who can't teach, teach gym. That old Woody Allen joke pretty accurately describes Freddy Shoop (Mark Harmon), a gym teacher who would rather be hanging ten on the sunny beaches of California than boring his students about dangling participles. After counting down the last few seconds of the school year, Shoop's ready to hightail it to Hawaii with his girlfriend. Since the movie's called Summer School and has Harmon plastered on the cover, the Magic Eight-Ball sez his plans will probably fall through. When the rest of the faculty ducks out, bite-in-the-ass vice principal Phil Gills (Robin Thomas) recruits Shoop, extorting him into teaching remedial English for the next six weeks. Shoop, who's never actually had to teach before, isn't particularly thrilled about this turn of events, but when he bumps into history teacher Robin Bishop (Kirstie Alley), suddenly the summer looks a little sunnier. He flirts with her relentlessly, but she's just started dating someone else, someone who happens to be his blackmailer, and Robin wants to see where that adventure takes her.

The group Shoop is stuck with for the summer includes a pair of horror nuts with an unrelenting obsession for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a pregnant girl due to squeeze a kid out any week now, an easily-distracted surfer chick with an eye for her teacher (future quasi-star Courtney Thorne-Smith), a dweeb with a grating voice, a somnambulistic stripper, a football player booted off the team for his poor grades, an inept but hopeful driver, and a busty Italian foreign exchange student. Shoop's students are as disinterested in learning as he is in teaching, and to make the days a little easier to pass, they just have a bunch of field trips to educational locales like Six Flags Over Wherever In California This Movie Takes Place and a petting zoo. Vice Principal Gills inevitably catches wind of this and threatens Shoop's job, but they come to an agreement -- if every one of his students can pass a basic skills test, this whole mess will be forgotten. Shoop buckles down, ditching his flip-flops, Hawaiian shirts, and Bermuda shorts for something a little more corporate, and he takes a stab at becoming a real teacher. His students agree to study and actually bother to do the homework, but in exchange, Shoop has to grant them one wish. No, this isn't Kazaam II: Electric Boogaloo; the wishes are fairly lightweight. So, with some much-needed assistance from Robin, Shoop sets out to teach his students, fulfill all of their requests, and...hilarity!

That plot summary is probably redundant. Anyone alive in the late '80s that had premium cable has caught at least part of Summer School, and if you think you haven't seen it, you're wrong. Scout's honor. I thought Summer School held up really well, although viewers who can't follow the cultural trends depicted in I Love the '80s probably shouldn't bother. It's a total product of its decade, complete with all the oddball hairstyles, neon shades of color that manufacturers have long since discontinued, and horrifying eyewear we know, love, and try desperately to repress. The number of kids Shoop teaches set up a bunch of different subplots, and although some are glossed over and some are completely uninteresting (the budding relationship between the former football star and the preggers girl falls in both categories), there's enough going on that the movie never really slows down despite being a few minutes longer than average. There are two big things going for Summer School, one being Mark Harmon. The actor seems to just be easing back and having a great time, and even though the broader humor is left to his students, Shoop's one-liners get some of the biggest laughs in the movie. "Rough day at school?" Simple, straightforward, and kills. The splatter nuts are also a blast, getting more attention than almost all of the other kids combined and deservedly so. Hell, thanks to them, Summer School has gorier make-up effects than most horror movies Hollywood is churning out these days.

I'm not going to pretend that Summer School is an overlooked slice of incomparable comedic brilliance, but it holds up well enough to keep me laughing throughout. Paramount's also slapped a bargain bin price tag on it, and this DVD is available for under ten bucks online. Worth picking up for fans of '80s comedies.

Video: The opening moments of Summer School are so soft and grainy that they had me settling in for 97 minutes of anticipated visual mediocrity. Then, strangely and suddenly, the 1.75:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation took a completely different turn, one it maintained for the majority of its remaining runtime. Some scattered shots here and there are of greatly varying quality, but those are both brief and infrequent. The image is predominantly sharp and well-defined, impressively clear of any wear or flecks. I'm pretty sure I didn't spot a single speck for the entire length of the film. Its palette is also bright and colorful. It still does look like a lower-budgeted flick shot 17 years ago, but at least it's a good presentation of a lower-budgeted flick shot 17 years ago.

Audio: Summer School includes a restored Dolby Digital mono track as well as a new six-channel mix (448Kbps). The 5.1 track stays pretty close to the original monaural audio, avoiding the temptation to toss in a bunch of gimmicky surround effects or forced separation across channels. The rears are used sparsely, generally just to reinforce various snippets of music. Most of the stereo separation up front can also be attributed to music, though the songs sound kind of anemic. Dialogue comes through pretty well, and switching back and forth between the 5.1 track and the original mono, I couldn't spot a dramatic difference in the quality of the dialogue between 'em. Decent but unremarkable. There's also a French mono track, English subtitles, and closed captions.

Supplements: Nothin'. This bare-metal DVD comes packaged in a keepcase (with those annoying security tabs on the side that Universal and Dreamworks have been using), and the disc sports a set of static, silent 16x9 menus.

Conclusion: Summer School is a nostalgic blast and holds up much better than many of the other '80s comedies I've subjected myself to over the past few years. A generally good looking anamorphic widescreen presentation, a decent six-channel mix, and a low list price make Summer School well worth fishing out of the bargain bin. Recommended.
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