Great Bad Movies: "Class of 1999"
"Class of 1999"
Released: 1990 / Genre: Sci-Fi/Action
Directed by: Mark L. Lester
Starring: Bradley Gregg, Pam Grier, Stacey Keach, John P. Ryan, Malcolm McDowell
In 1982, director Mark L. Lester released Class of 1984, a punk-rock update of the "kids gone wild" films of the 1950s, starring Perry King as the new teacher at an inner-city high school who is terrorized by a ruthless gang of teenage thugs. The film (which even featured a young Michael J. Fox in a small role) became a cable-TV staple during the 1980s, and slowly developed enough of a cult following to earn a belated sequel. Released in 1990, Class of 1999 sets itself apart from its street-level predecessor by adding some high-tech science-fiction elements to the mix. The result is an explosive cocktail of pure B-Movie goodness! Class of 1999 is a gloriously silly, action packed mash-up of concepts borrowed from The Blackboard Jungle and A Clockwork Orange, with a healthy dose of all-too-obvious Terminator worship.
Class of 1999 has also gone on to achieve cult status thanks to its amazing cast of B-Movie greats, its dystopian themes and its non-stop, over-the-top action sequences.
As the film begins, a charmingly-cheap computer-voiced animation (similar to the opening of Escape From New York) informs us that it's 1999, and youth gang violence in our fair nation has reached the boiling point. Areas around certain major cities have been abandoned to the street gangs and are designated "free fire zones" in which the law will not enter. Unfortunately, Seattle's McKinley High School happens to be smack in the middle of one of those zones, and the two major gangs in the area - the Blackhearts and the Razorheads - regularly exchange running gunfire in the streets.
McKinley High's new principal (Malcolm McDowell, A Clockwork Orange) has agreed to take part in an experimental program headed by Dr. Forrest (a bug-eyed Stacy Keach at his late '80s coked-out best), a representative of the U.S. Government's newly formed "Department of Educational Defense." Dr. Forrest's solution to violence in the schools involves installing advanced, human-looking military robots into the classrooms. These realistic androids will be programmed to act as teachers, but of course they can also take care of any, ahem, "disciplinary issues" that may arise.
Soon there's a new coach, a new chemistry teacher (Pam "Foxy Brown" Grier!) and a new History teacher (John P. Ryan) at McKinley High, who take office just as Cody Culp (Bradley Gregg of A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors), the former head of the Blackhearts gang, is released from jail and returned to school. Cody is determined to stay on the straight and narrow and as he tries his best to resist returning to gang life, he quickly notices that there's something odd about his school's newest faculty members... particularly their penchant for handing out corporal punishment.
Eventually the Teach-O-Matic droids reason that it would be easier to develop McKinley High's young minds if they get rid of the gangs altogether, and all-out shoot'em up, blow'em up fun ensues. Cody manages to convince the Razorheads and the Blackhearts that they must put aside their differences and combine their resources so they can take McKinley High back from the robo-teachers in a battle royale in the school hallways.
Summing It Up
Don't get me wrong, Class of 1999 is ridiculous... but it's so fast-moving and so much damn fun that you won't have time to reflect on its silliness. Simply sit back and enjoy the robotic gang crushing ride.
In addition to the near-constant ultra-violence and explosions, Class of 1999 features some great performances from Grier, Keach (rockin' some seriously cool snake eyed contact lenses and a rat tail hairdo), and especially Malcolm McDowell as the embattled principal of McKinley High. It's interesting to note that 20 years prior to Class of 1999, McDowell personified the "teenage punk of the future" in Stanley Kubrick's epic A Clockwork Orange, while here he gets to portray a member of the anti-youth establishment.
Pam Grier, of course, is foxy and badass as ever, and John P. Ryan is an absolute hoot as the sweater-vest clad, elder professor looking Robo-teacher who looks kindly at first but ends up being the most threatening of the trio.
Class of 1999's special effects are cheap but passable, lots of stuff blows up, and Sheri Lin, in a supporting role as McDowell's daughter and Gregg's love interest, may not be a great actress but she's certainly nice to look at and she can scream her head off during the appropriate moments just fine.
In short: Class of 1999 is anti-social fun for everyone. School's out forever!
© 2019 Keith Abt