stu steimer

Over the past 40 years, Mark L. Lester has produced and directed some of the most freewheelin' car chases, explosive action set pieces and flat-out sensational genre films to emerge from Hollywood. In 1992, he formed American World Pictures, of which he remains president and CEO to this day. On the occasion of his 65th birthday this Saturday, the Pink Smoke will be dedicating the week to a series of articles - each by a different writer - covering different films from Lester's four decades of blood, bullets - lots of bullets - and outrageous bombast. Lester only sequelized one of his movies, which we visit today with...

mark l. lester, 1990.

Think ahead into the distant future, all the way to the year 1999. Seattle. It's pure dystopian collapse as society breaks down and violence in schools erupts into a mega-Columbine peak as the entire educational institution is overrun by teenage gangs, gangs you know are surely not to be messed with as evidenced by their love of restricting leather pants and their defiant anti-authoritarian stance of riding their Kawasaki dirt bikes on school grounds, during in-session hours. Things are so rough that even the principal, who in his youth flirted with misogynistic delinquency and violent revolutionary upheavals before his life as a failed coffee salesman led him into the straight-and-narrow, has no choice but to call upon nefarious military agencies for help.

Led by new-wave Stacey Keach, replete with a Billy Idol crew cut/rat-tail and cataract contact lenses, the contracted team of mad scientists implements a small army of "Battle Droids" to take care of the problematic youth. Cleverly disguised as Pam Grier and two high school teachers*, the three androids take to the classrooms, dually teaching the basics while filtering out the unruly students that choose to blast their Trixter and Faster Pussycat mix tapes out of their boom-boxes - or whatever the hell cyberpunk high school kids are suppose to be listening to - disrupting classes in lieu of obtaining a substandard public education. It's not long before the Battle Droids go haywire thanks to inferior American engineering and a clear misuse of military funds and begin to baselessly target all students. If the potential tragedy of losing an entire generation of bowling alley lane-greasers in a single day isn't enough to call for a counter-strike, then the death of the kid from River's Edge is sure to become the final nail in that old proverbial coffin, the grand unifier of oily late 80's cinematic teen angst in the war against the post-Chopping Mall/pre-Judgment Day man-machines.

Class of 1999, the loose thematic sequel to the 1982 cult classic Class of 1984 maintains the previous film's campy, exploitative charm, though here the setting has been significantly altered from the relative "real world" backdrop of the former film for a garbage-strewn post-apocalyptic urban sprawl, looking very much like an upscale version of McKeesport Pennsylvania. I definitely don't think it is as strong as its predecessor; as a matter of ageist personal opinion I think I like the idea of the teacher killing his troublesome students more-so than the other way around (I only wish every movie about teachers who come to teach in the tough inner-city would have a final act like the one in Class of 1984, instead of the way they normally do: the kids learn to appreciate Jane Austen through the music of Gucci Mane with the teacher learning something about himself, and everyone learns how to love again - at least the former is entertaining and more believable.) At any rate, Class of 1999 still manages to deliver most of what you'd come to expect for a film of this type. Often ridiculous and perpetually cheesy and overtly self-aware it still remains a satisfying experience for anyone already fond of other 80's/early 90's absurd B-action oddities that one can picture airing on Cinemax in the time between the daily fourth airing of Short Circuit II and Emanuelle in Hoboken (I'm thinking stuff like Dead Boyz Can't Fly, The Park is Mine, Stone Cold, that one Wings Hauser vehicle where G. Gordon Liddy shows up as an android, etc.) As always, a few thimbles of long-expired cough syrup definitely enhance the experience, but for legality's sake I won't go ahead and recommend it off-right.

* John Cribbs adds: I just have to take this opportunity to shout out the late great John P. Ryan, star of the first two It's Alive movies and reliable supporting scumbag in The Missouri BreaksBound and Avenging Force, in which he plays a manhunting white supremist who murders Steve James and his entire family - thus awakening Michael Dudikoff's avenging force! His Mr. Hardin is the best thing about the movie: he's appropriately fuddy duddy as a history teacher and creepily sadistic as a soulless cyborg. My favorite scene is the one where he pulls two disruptive students up to the front and, before a horrified classroom, spanks one of them while holding the other under his powerful robot loafers. Ryan's face registers sick pleasure and personal triumph as the other students clam up and sit up straight: Roddy McDowall would have approved! Ryan manages to upstage even this delightful moment later in the movie when he pulls a gang member through a wall, folding the leather-clad punk in half at the waist in the process. He's the scariest and most jocular android since Yul Brynner in Westworld (that's coming from someone who considers himself a huge Robert Patrick fan) and I don't doubt for a second that the merciless punishment dished out to the class of 1999 was culled directly from Ryan's frustrated inability to discipline the legendary Buddy Revell when he played the principal in Three O'Clock High ("Don't fuck this up, Mitchell!")
~ NOVEMBER 22, 2011 ~