Film Review: Class of 1999 (1990)
Most American parents today complain about teachers having too much control over their children and shaping their minds in all kinds of undesirable ways. Few decades ago it was quite the opposite. Lack of authority in classrooms was blamed on schools being taken over by vicious teen gangs and many such institutions becoming cesspools of drug dealing and violence. In 1982 Mark L. Lester exploited such sentiments with his controversial and ultra-violent film Class of 1984. Few years later he decided to give the subject futuristic spin with the semi-official sequel Class of 1999.
The plot is set in (then future) late 1990s and depicts grim t dystopian America in which drug use became so widespread and teen gangs so violent that police had abandoned many sections of big cities turning them no go zones. Yet, despite everything, some of those areas still have functioning educational institutions, like Seattle’s Kennedy High. One of its students is Cody Culp (played by Bradley Gregg), teenager who just got released from prison. He decided to stay out of trouble and, as a result, severs links with his former gang Blackhearts, Instead, he begins to befriend beautiful student Christie Langford (played by Traci Lind), whose father Dr. Miles Langford (played by Malcolm McDowell). In the meantime, students have to deal with three teachers – Mr. Hardin (played by John P. Ryan), Miss Connors (played by Pam Grier) and Mr. Bryles (played by John Kilpatrick) – who not only fail to be intimidated by gang members, but actually turn tables on them by establishing discipline through brutal physical punishment. Culp begins to realise that there is something very wrong with them, especially after learning that his adopted brother Sonny (played by Darren E. Burrows) died during encounter with Hardin. The violence by new teachers escalate in such way that Cody reluctantly rejoins his old gang and even try to make peace with rival gang of Razorheads in order to for pupils to have fighting chance against trio that seems not only ultra-violent but invulnerable. Cody later learns that the teachers are actually cyborgs, originally developed for combat by Megatech corporation and brought to school by ruthless Dr. Robert Forrest (played by Stacy Keach) in order to test its ability to bring order to uncontrollable American schools through extreme means.
Script by C. Courtney Joyner gave interesting twist to the premise of Class of 1982. While in the previous film teacher had to resort to violence in order to deal with ultra-violent and menacing students, this film suggests that such cure can be worse than disease, at least while administered by ruthless government-connected corporation whose boss (delightfully played by over-the-top Stacey Keach) cares nothing about public safety. While young thugs in Class of 1999 aren’t much better than those in Class of 1982, in this film audience will ultimately root for them because the killer robot teachers are much worse. Lester, film maker who made career in low budget action and genre films, makes this point by establishing each of three cyborgs as different personalities who torture and murder students while saying clever, darkly humorous one-liners. By that time audience would cease to take the film seriously, but it would probably enjoy villains being played by formidable characters actors like Ryan, Grier and Kilpatrick who easily outshine iconic Malcolm McDowell in one of his rare roles of normal and sympathetic person. Lester, who obviously took inspiration from classic science fiction films like Westworld, The Terminator and RoboCop, also had good special effects team on his disposal which used puppetry, mechanical effects and make up to make exciting final showdown with teachers when they reveal their true robot nature. Lester also made great action scenes, often using abandoned and run down locations in Seattle to create future dystopian and almost post-apocalyptic world with relatively small budget. However, his skill can’t hide lack of depth in film, especially in characterisation of protagonist who is competently played by Bradley Greeg in one of his rare starring roles, but whose attempt to go straight isn’t properly explained. Class of 1999 was produced by Vestron in time when studio was going bankrupt and that led to film failing at box office, although it had enough success in home video to warrant forgettable semi-sequel Class of 1999 II: The Substitute. Viewers today might enjoy it for competent action and high levels of entertaining thrashiness, although some might find even certain prophetic qualities, especially in light of “autonomous” no-go zones that appeared in Seattle during 2020 riots.
RATING: 6/10 (++)
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Movie URL: https://www.themoviedb.org/movie/23535-class-of-1999