Monday, November 28, 2011

Lower Class: "Class of 1984" (1982)

Mark Lester directs a cult hit that has aged worse than any Rubik's Cube or Smurf merchandise from the 1980's.

Naive music teacher Andy (Perry King) is hired to teach at a tough inner-city high school after a stint in the crime free utopia of Nebraska (where I graduated from high school in 1986, and know firsthand this film is already wrong). He immediately has run-ins with a gang of toughs led by Stegman (Timothy Van Patten). Andy's wife Diana (Merrie Lynn Ross) is pregnant, and the two just want to lead normal lives.

The gang runs the school, and no one can do anything about them because of lack of witnesses, and the criminals are still under eighteen. Andy finds solace with Corrigan (Roddy McDowall), a biology teacher who takes his own comfort in drinking between classes and carrying a gun. The helpless principal never believes children are capable of wrong, and the local police detective Stewiski (Al Waxman) is also of no use.

The rest of the film is easy to summarize. The gang strike at Andy or his "good" students (including a chubby Michael J. Fox), Andy strikes back and is reprimanded by an authority figure, toughs strike, Andy reprimanded, etc. The inevitable finale is especially sleazy.

Actually, the whole thing is sleazy. While this might not be a bad thing necessarily, the film makers try to dress this junk up as an important social statement. The opening crawl warns that this is based "in part" on real events, and that most schools are not this bad "yet." The gang is seen as a four person crime wave, dealing drugs, raping, pillaging, et al., and yet no one can do anything about them. All the adults are helpless ninnies who cower in their presence until Andy finally begins taking a stand. By the end of the film, however, no one has changed! There is no development, the characters have shown no difference in their personas, they are established and then give the viewer ninety-three minutes of bad behavior.

Lester directs the film well enough, but his material is so badly written, it is hard to dress it up with artistic flourish. Perry King is rarely bad in anything except maybe some of his film choices ("Mandingo"), and this is one of them. Alice Cooper contributes what may very well be the worst song in movie history, not to mention his music career. Fox tries his early Alex P. Keaton character out here, and that is all I could see while I watched him. Where's Mallory to save you from a lunch room stabbing when you need her?

In the age after the Columbine massacre, when the violence seemed to strike out of nowhere, "Class of 1984" is a relic. No longer should we fear the kids who commit the big crimes in school, but the nutty quiet ones who target practice in the woods as well. This movie does not serve to inspire or change anything, it just gives you a basic thrill, like watching a slasher pic. Believe me, that is not enough. (*) out of five stars.