Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Summer School: Life's A Beach Edition

For latchkey kids of a certain generation, Summer School was one of a handful of '80s staples that couldn't be pried from the VCR, not because they were just as entertaining the hundredth time as they were the first, but because they provided an almost narcotic form of escapism. (See also: The Karate Kid, Revenge Of The Nerds, and much of John Hughes' oeuvre.) With mom and dad at work, and the threatening unpredictability of nature outdoors, it was easy to slip into a formulaic comedy that hit every mark—elaborate schoolyard pranks, underdogs made good through the magic of montage, a stuffed shirt getting his comeuppance, and so on. But how does a film like Summer School look 20 years later, when its arrested-adolescent-teacher bit has been co-opted and surpassed by films like School Of Rock?


Surprisingly enough, the answer is "not too bad," because it remains so easily digestible: A classic underachiever, Summer School gives little but demands even less in return, which makes its idea of success roughly akin to that of mouth-breathing remedial English students looking to scrape by on a standardized test. A former UCLA quarterback with blue eyes and perfect teeth, Mark Harmon doesn't look especially comfortable as a gym teacher/beach bum. (Much as the film tries to make him seem like a slob, Harmon looks like the type who has his Hawaiian shirts neatly pressed and folded.) With his tenure threatened, Harmon gives up his summer vacation to teach English to a group of Sweathog-types, but he's just as unmotivated to educate as they are to learn.

Summer School offers up a gallery of goofballs—a dumb jock, a dweeb, a jailbait surfer, a big-breasted Italian exchange student, Kirstie Alley—but most of the comedy comes from Dean Cameron as "Chainsaw," a second-rate Spicoli whose worship of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre manifests itself in the film's funniest scene. But Summer School isn't about having a good laugh; it's about passing the time.

Key features: Two new featurettes exalt the film as if it were Some Like It Hot, but the commentary by Harmon and director Carl Reiner has a sweeter, more modest perspective.