Summer School review by Mike Long

It's happened to the best of us. Through no fault of your own, your an incredibly cheesy bubble-gum pop song and it somehow gets stuck in your head and you eventually have to admit to yourself that you kind of like it. The same thing can happen with movies as well. You innocently watch a movie which you know isn't all that good, but for some reason, it just grows on you. That's the case with Summer School, which has recently hit DVD.

Mark Harmon stars in Summer School as Freddy Shoop, a happy-go-lucky high-school gym teacher who is looking forward to spending the summer with his girlfriend in Hawaii. However, when teacher Mr. Dearadorian (director Carl Reiner) wins the lottery and flees the school, vice principal Gills (Robin Thomas) coerces Shoop into teaching remedial English in summer school, by threatening Shoop's chances at tenure. Disheartened by the fact that he's missing Hawaii, Shoop doesn't take the assignment very seriously, especially when he meets the group of kids he's going to working with; Dave (Gary Riley) & "Chainsaw" (Dean Cameron), two gorehounds who are obsessed with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; Pam (Courtney Thorne-Smith), who'd rather be surfing than study; Kevin (Patrick Labyorteaux), a football player; Rhonda (Shawnee Smith), who's pregnant; Denise (Kelly Jo Minter), who's all attitude; Eakian (Richard Steven Horvitz), the only D student in his family; and Larry (Ken Olandt), who is seemingly a narcoleptic. At first, Shoop tries to make the class fun by taking the kids on field trips, but soon, his attraction to fellow teacher Robin Bishop (Kirstie Alley) makes him realize that he should actually try to teach the kids. In order to do this, he agrees to grant each of his students one wish, and those requests make for one wacky summer.

There's no doubt that Summer School is a very simplistic, generic comedy that does little to challenge the viewer. The once irreverent Carl Reiner shows none of his usual zing here, and the movie rarely rises above TV-movie fare. But, the engaging characters are able to overcome the formulaic story. Although just 97-minutes long, Summer School allows us to get to know each of the students and thus makes the film more engaging. The film also knows its strengths and allows the stronger characters to have the most screen-time. Kevin and Rhonda are fairly one-dimensional, so we see little of them. Yet, Dave and "Chainsaw" (who surely make this film watchable) are given the spotlight in many memorable scenes. Although this duo are hardly role-models, Summer School was one of the first films to show horror film fans in a slightly positive light and "Chainsaw" reminded me a great deal of myself at that for the alcoholism and the necessity to repeat remedial English. To this day, I still find myself quoting lines from "Chainsaw". The majority of the cast in Summer School is fine, but Mark Harmon really shines here and shows that he is (was?) fully capable of being a charming leading man. Summer School is by no means a classic and many probably consider it cable-TV fodder, but the movie certainly has some hilarious moments and has held up quite well over the years.

Summer School is held back on DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. Despite some minor problems, the transfer looks pretty good. The image is sharp and relatively clear, although minor grain populates most of the film. There are some very odd shots where it looks as if the camera has zoomed into the film itself, causing the shot to be quite grainy. Some minor defects from the source material are visible at times, but these really aren't distracting. The colors are quite good, and edge-enhancement haloes have been kept to a minimum. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which delivers clear dialogue and sound effects with no hiss. As with many 5.1 remixes, the surround sound effects are limited to musical cues and crowd noise, although the amusement park montage sounds quite good.

There are no extra features on this DVD.

ADDENDUM: On May 22, 2007, Paramount Home Entertainment released a new special edition of Summer School dubbed the "Life's a Beach Edition". This edition contained the same audio and video transfer as the previous release, but it also had some much welcomed special features. Director Carl Reiner and star Mark Harmon provide an AUDIO COMMENTARY for the film. This is a passable chat, as the two describe the making of the film. However, Reiner doesn't seem to remember many specifics about the production, but both have plenty to say about the cast. "Inside the Teachers (sic) Lounge" (14 minutes) is a retrospective look at the making of Summer School which contains some archival behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, as well as modern-day comments from Reiner, Harmon, writer Jeff Franklin, and actors Dean Cameron, Ken Olandt, Patrick Labyorteaux, and Robin Thomas. Here we learn that the Kirstie Alley role almost went to Fran Drescher. That would have been a different movie! We get a detailed look at the cast of students in "Summer School Yearbook" (11 minutes), which, again contains a combination of new and old interviews with the cast. The extras are rounded out by the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film, presented 16 x 9, and a PHOTO GALLERY. It's great that Paramount decided to re-release this fun film with some extra features, but the new DVD cover art is awful, as it makes this look like a sex romp.

6 out of 10 Jackasses

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