What happens when you throw every cinematic cliché of the 80s onto the screen at the same time? I’m talking about combining a tough-talking urbanista, pregnant new-waver, helium-voiced geek, distracted surfer chick, amateur gigolo, stupid football player, foreign exchange hottie, and two freaks who reenact scenes from horror movies in gruesome detail at every opportunity? Well, in the case of SUMMER SCHOOL (1987), you get a veritable miracle of comedic alchemy. This throw-away flick was clearly made with more love and care than the typical teen comedies of today. That's why this spicy potpourri of comic zingers and visual gags keeps audiences laughing over two decades after many of its more stuffy contemporaries have been forgotten.
Slacker gym teacher Freddie Shoop is suckered into giving up his vacation in Hawaii to teach remedial English to a bunch of losers in summer school. This course is designed for students at the bottom of the academic and social barrel, and lackadaisical Shoop is woefully unprepared for dealing with them. “I’m not a real teacher!” he protests to the Vice Principal. “That’s okay, they’re not real students,” he is told. Shoop cobbles together a lesson plan based on the kids’ personal experiences, combined with crazy field trips. He is busted by the mean Vice Principal for his unconventional methods and threatens to turn him in to the Principal. To save his skin, Shoop swears his students will pass the exam, but underestimates the students’ resistance. Finally, they come to an understanding: if Shoop grants each of them one wish, they will study hard and pass the exam. Neither Shoop nor the kids realized what they bargained for… keeping up both ends of the agreement will turn out to be far more challenging than any of them imagined!
The biggest strength of this film is the perfect execution of the 80’s ensemble cast technique. This is harder to accomplish than one might think. Every actor holds up his end of the script and fits together with the others like the pieces of a puzzle. No single character upstages the others and all are equally unique and memorable. It may even outshine THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985) in the sense that it takes the complex interpersonal dynamics of the students out of the confines of the school setting. It allows us to observe the private details of their personal lives, creating well-rounded characterizations and opportunities for interesting interactions and scenarios. Viewers often comment on how relatable the characters are, either to themselves or people they know. There’s a reason why teen movies often recycle the same stereotypes, and that’s because they are usually accurate. Here, the formulaic roles are so deliciously twisted, so ridiculously goofy, that it infuses the tired old clichés with fresh new life
This is a rather short review, as there’s really not much else to say. The movie is as simple and straightforward as they come. This is a theatrical experience which must be experienced and savored, not over-analyzed to death. I guarantee that you will laugh like a monkey and probably hate yourself for doing so. Then, you will check to make sure nobody is looking, hit rewind on the VCR, and watch the whole thing again. It really is that hilarious! 3/5 stars.
SHOOP AND THE KIDS STRIKE A BARGAIN: