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Class of 1999

Directed by Mark Lester

Written by C. Courtney Joyner

Starring Pam Grier, Malcolm McDowell, Stacy Keach, Darren E. Burrows

Produced by Mark Lester

Not Rated

96 minutes

***

You know, with all the sputtering about declining test scores and assorted whatnot revolving around the state of education in this country, all the naysayers really need to pop themselves some popcorn, settle in for a movie, and watch Class of 1999, if for no other reason than to see how good we actually have it.

Because in Class of 1999, major metropolitan areas like Chicago, Detroit and Seattle, among others, have been swallowed up by gang violence and drugs. The schools in those areas, not surprisingly, have basically shut down because it’s hard to get the Crips and such to leave their drug businesses for six hours so they can make first bell. Thus, the Department of Educational Defense, which sounds like a half-baked nightmare of the kind only the Bush administration could cook up, is called in to try and reopen the schools from the nightmare of the “free-fire zones”. They answer the call in spades by refurbishing old androids and loading them up with educational software, then sending them in to teach.

You can imagine how badly this will go wrong.

Which is the thing about Class of 1999. You’ve got to bear in mind that this was originally released back in 1990, which was a time when we were just starting to come down off of Rambo movies, and the Cold War was actually still fairly warm. We believed in action movies very heavily back then, and man, did we get them out of Class of 1999.

Sure, the writing’s a bit hackneyed, at least the dialogue is—there’s actually nothing much bad to say about the overall plot itself, which was also a bit hackneyed but was also set nine years into the future, so they have plenty of plausible deniability. They wrote it for the future, after all, and who knows where that’ll wind up going? That and most of the special effects don’t look too bad. After all, they depend heavily on explosions, and do explosions ever really go out of style?

Of course not. Just ask Michael Bay.

Oh yes, I went there.

Frankly, there are lessons to learn here about how to make a low-budget movie that manages, somehow, to not look dated despite the fact that it’s now officially legal and able to vote in the United States. Not just the explosions, either—you’ll notice that much of the effects work is makeup rather than CG based, and that lends it an extra note of endurance. And of course, getting solid actors to handle the roles—Keach, McDowell and Grier all handle their action roles with the kind of authority you’d expect from long-since masters. Keach is an appropriately smarmy jerk, McDowell is well in his element as a well-meaning principal gone too far and Grier manages to make you believe she’s an android hellbent on ending gang violence in schools.

Besides its longevity, Class of 1999 is actually just plain fun to watch. This is a comparative rarity in low-budget filmmaking these days and it’s one I’m glad to see back in full force.

The ending is solid, satisfying, and involves lots of things and people blowing up or burning. What they did to that android gym coach I wouldn’t do to a dead dog with leprosy.

The special effects are a bit sparse, but functional, including English and Spanish subtitles, and trailers for the Terminator 2 Extreme DVD version, Alien 3000, Rottweiler, Shockwave, and They Are Among Us.

All in all, Class of 1999 is a fun, fairly satisfying romp through the annals of low-budget film history, and a worthwhile trip to take as long as you don’t expect too much out of this unapologetic target range of a movie.

Steve Anderson is a film critic who collects action figures so he can dress them up as his favorite horror villains. He lives somewhere in the United States.


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