Film Review: Class of 1999
Class of 1999
Director: Mark L. Lester (1990)
Regular readers, if the existed, might have noted the lack of poorly constructed film reviews recently, apologies for that, writing them while simultaneously going through a bit of a break down just wasn’t feasible……..It’s not all ‘bad’ news though, I’m happy to reveal that over the course of said breakdown, I unlocked the secret of a Nietzsche related philosophical concept; I battled monsters and stared into the abyss until the abyss stared back at me………….. and after a few days, I realised: it’s not the abyss that stares back at you, it’s actually the film Class of 1999, which is quite good news, because Class of 1999 is a pretty fun film, imagine if it had been Déjà vu!
It’s 1999 and the American government has failed to party to the fact. Mainly that’s due to their inner city school system, which, thanks to a build-up of gang culture, they have been forced to declare neutral or ‘free fire’ zones. Such a move has left residents forced to fend for themselves in nightmarish warzones a lot like Mad Max, except with regular resupplies, and a working nightclub, and radio, and fuel, anyway the point of the…………… actually there are armoured school buses running in and out of the zones all the time as well……… anyway the point of………………… and everyone has clean clothes, and…………. ANYWAY, nope I’ve forgotten what the sentence was going to be, next paragraph.
The American government, or The Man as I’ll be referring to them for the rest of this review, aren’t too happy with this state of affairs, and arrive at the solution of providing large amounts of co-ordinated funding to eradicate inequality teaming up with one of the beleaguered High Schools (Kennedy High School because the only president worth naming yourself after is Kennedy) and testing out human looking robot teachers. The robot teachers are the brain child of Bob Forest (Stacy Keach) who looks like a humanised version of the general from Akira with an evil way of eating a banana.
The Man considers robotic teachers as such a good idea, they decide not to keep any convicted gang bangers (that is the term, see The Wire) in jail anymore, and subsequently release them from prison to attend school. One of these incarcerated gangbangers happens to be Cody Culp (Bradley Gregg, see Stand by Me), the youngest ex-con trying to go straight in film history………. Also, because it’s downfall of society gang culture dress code, he wears a girl’s jacket that’s about twenty sizes too small for him and appears like a weird waist coat.
Sadly it’s not such a great return to the education system for Cody; the gang he used to roll with happily beat him up once they discover he’s trying to go straight, his mum (Sharon Wyatt, great but not given enough screen time) and odd little brother (Darren E Burrows who was in X-files apparently) loathe him for not helping them with their drug addiction and school isn’t much better. The three robot teachers (Played by Pam ‘Jackie Brown’ Grier, Patrick ‘Under Siege 2’ Kilpatrick and John ‘I was a voice in that 1993 animated batman movie’ P Ryan) aren’t fans of teenage ex-convicts, or teenagers in general, and start meting out punishment that perhaps does not fit the crime.
There’s also a love interest for Cody in the form of Christy Langford (Traci Lind), a good looking girl with early nineties hair who also happens to be the principal’s daughter. There’s a weird moment about a third of the way in to Class of 1999, where Cody saves Christy from getting raped by breaking a few faces. This gets him hauled in front of The Principal (Oh yeah, he’s played by Malcolm McDowell), who’s more concerned with the fact two would be rapist boys are in the hospital, than the fact his daughter was saved from a rape. Guess that’s a reflection of 1990’s attitudes to rape, thank god times have changed, and now society wont tolerate rape, as long as the girl wasn’t dressed provocatively, or drunk, or pretty, or partying with a footballer…………………….. and was wearing a chastity belt…………. and the rapists aren’t on television.
Plot summary ends.
The summary may make Class of 1999 sound a bit cheesy, generic, trashy, puerile and whatever those other words I can’t be arsed to write down in my thesaurus are, and it is. But, and it’s a big but, despite a lack of depth to the story, I really really like Class of 1999. Why? Well (queue worlds smallest violin) put simply, at a time when I was feeling very very bad about myself, watching Class of 1999 made me smile.
Cease worlds smallest violin.
That’s it isn’t it, I’ve reached the nadir of self-indulgence usually reserved for Uwe Boll films, I can see you sat there now, reading this with pity, ‘ahh, poor little Sammy feeling badly about things’ well you know what, stop it, STOP IT, DON’T LOOK AT ME, DON’T LOOK AT ME!……………………………………………………………………………………Anyway, pulling my head out of my arse, I could try and objectively say Class of 1999 does have other things going for it, but at the end of the day, everything’s subjective so why bother……. except to fill paragraph space.
The thing is though, trashy or not, Class of 1999 is still a really really fun film. The acting is amusing and energetic, this was before the days of CGI so there are huge sets with lots of extras dressed as anti-social, teenage pirates (as opposed to the more social ones that actually had boats and were Johnny Depp) and you can see they’re having a ball. Likewise, the teachers are interesting characters, they steal scenes with how threatening they manage to seem, managing to be grandiloquent (thank you once more word a day calendar) without ever becoming melodramatic or boring.
Bradley Gregg deserves credit, Cody Culp was never going to compete in the bad ass Olympics, but he’s still a sympathetic lead character, he really is a teenager who grew up to fast, you can see how disgusted he is by the gang culture around him, while also feeling that he’s maybe only a scene or two away from jumping right back into his old life. I liked him, I rooted for him and was pleased for him when things went well, I haven’t felt so endeared to a lead character since Bruce Willis in Hostage.
Away from the performances, the scope of Class of 1999 is impressive. The sets are large and expressive, there’s tons of things going on in the background if you want to look, but don’t distract or impose themselves on you if you don’t. There’s a vibrancy to the whole thing and you really feel like you’re in a consistent, constructed world, rather than say, a boring, stale CGI backdrop (See Star Wars prequels).
Class of 1999 was filmed as a (slightly) bigger budget follow up to Lester’s previous film, Commando Class of 1984 (which introduced the concepts of schools and gangs, but not the robotic teachers) and it feels like a labour of love. It comes off as a production that simply set out to be fun to make, regardless of criticial success or profit, which is good to see. A film that aims to be fun without taking itself too seriously is refreshing and sadly, a trait that has slowly declined.
There are criticisms, but they’re not really fair ones, Class of 1999 wasn’t a reinvention of the wheel, or an attempt to explore the profundity of existence, and as a result it is at times, superficial with some pretty big topics (Death, rape, sadistic teachers). Similarly, while a fun film, Class of 1999 was made with a certain niche audience in mind, so naturally it has the limitations that stem from such an approach; the background music is generic eighties sympth, the dialogue is rooted in its time, and everyone’s haircuts are terrible.
Yojimbo it aint, but if you’re in the mood for a simple easy watch, or maybe feeling a bit depressed because things aren’t working out the way you want, and the people you know keep dying, and you’re penis is tiny, then you might be surprised at just how much enjoyment you get from Class of 1999.
Written by Sam ‘Damn it feels good to be a gangster’ McKinstrie
Unnecessarily on twitter as McKinstHFP
See HFP’s videos at www.youtube.com/MrHFProductions
Why not be kind and drop HFP a like on facebook