Review: Class of 1999

Vestron Video (Blu-ray)

Class of 1999 was directed and co-written by Mark L. Lester, who also made Class of 1984.  Both films posit a near future in which youth gangs (which everyone was really afraid of in the ’80s) would continue to grow until they turned schools into virtual war zones.

Much like Harold Camping, once 1984 passed without incident, Lester pushed his predicted date for the gang-pocalypse up a few years, adopting a suitable advancement in technology in the process.

In Class of 1999, schools are basically prisons for the kids that haven’t been sent to real prison yet.  They have their own security forces (as the police have abandoned the ‘freefire zones’ that surround them), high gates, and timed door locks.  But even that isn’t enough to keep the kids in line, so the school principal (Malcolm McDowell) and a mad scientist (Stacy Keach with a mullet) hatch a plan to re-purpose three, terminator-like military androids into teachers.  The teachers, one of which is played by Pam Grier, soon find their war-instincts rekindled by the unruly kids, and retaliate in way wholly inappropriate for a school.

The hero of the film is Cody Culp.  In the opening scene, he is let out of prison, as the officials believe he will be a good test case for the new class of teachers.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem all that interested in getting back into his old life, nor does he want to change.  He’s actually pretty detached and listless (I don’t know if that’s the character or the actor).  His actions have clear motivations, but they are simple and immediate; someone he cares about is hurt, so he fights.

The world created in the film is neat, but confusing. There are some nice details in how the school operates, the use of robot teachers, who can fight and be programmed with subject expertise, makes sense given the situation.  That said, we never really get a sense that the gangs are all that bad.  They have occasional gun fights in the streets, but nothing a competent police force couldn’t handle.  Inside the schools, they’re mostly just disruptive or bullying, hardly a justification for robo-killers.

The movie starts out pretty well, introducing an interesting world with a lot of potential for creative kills and social commentary; but the last half ends up being a meandering, half-hearted gun fight, albeit with some nice, practical special effects.  It actually got boring by the end.  Kid motorcycles in, shoots at teacher, teacher shoots student, student runs away.  Over and over again.  In the end, it’s just Class of 1984, with a few additions ripped off from Terminator.

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