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Overall Rating
3.86

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look85.71%
Just Average: 14.29%
Pretty Crappy: 0%
Sucks: 0%

1 review, 1 rating


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Substitute 3: Winner Takes All, The
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by Jack Sommersby

"The Best of This Not-Bad Series"
4 stars

A shame it didn't play in theatres, for it's more enjoyable than many the mega-budgeted Hollywood super-production.

It took almost two decades for actor Treat Williams to finally become interesting. What should've been star-making roles in two major motion pictures just didn't work out -- in Milos Forman's abysmal adaptation of the Broadway hit Hair, Williams was smug and abrasive as the lead draft-dodging hippie; and in Sidney Lumet's mediocre Prince of the City, he was woefully inadequate as an internally tormented policeman determined to expose departmental corruption. One could argue that Williams was at a considerable disadvantage in that those movies were far from praiseworthy, but an immensely talented actor can still manage to break through lackluster material and shine if he's got "the goods." Williams seemed "average" at best without the necessary resourcefulness and charisma to make much of an indelible impression on the silver screen; there was a chasm separating his workmanlike intent with actual accomplishment, and you felt a bit sorry for him in light of how glaringly inefficient he was. (I could barely look at him.) But in 1995 he surprised many with a volcanically funny performance as an extroverted sociopath in the colorful Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead, and that led to acceptable star turns in stuff as diverse as the horror-actioner Deep Rising and family-drama The Deep End of the Ocean. This isn't to imply he aged to the quality of a great wine, only that you were no longer watching an actor straining to pull off effects superior actors can with half the effort; and whether it's because his hair has turned lighter and/or his face has filled out some, he looks not so calculatingly manufactured anymore. He now comes across as three-dimensional minus the smarminess that made him off-putting to an audience; he's mellowed and learned to relax in front of the camera, with an easygoing appeal that makes him especially winning in the direct-to-video The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All, his second time in the title role originally played by Tom Berenger in The Substitute that Williams took over in The Substitute 2: School's Out. In his previous outing, his ex-military/career-mercenary Karl Thomasson went undercover as a teacher at a crime-plagued New York City urban high school to find out who was responsible for the shooting death of a longtime friend; this time around he again assumes the cover of a substitute teacher at a medium-size Eastern university whose steroid-taking football jocks have brutally assaulted the daughter of a now-deceased colleague Karl recently lost in Bosnia -- an English professor, she's refused to give their academically-lacking selves passing grades, thus jeopardizing their eligibility to play.

The original and first sequel were adequately directed but poorly written, with the latter's absurd over-length further damaging it; with a ninety-minute running time, decent plotting, and an adroit director in Robert Radler, the swift, streamlined The Substitute 3 is much more entertaining -- it's got some of the guilty-pleasure allure of those Charles Bronson/Cannon Pictures-produced Death Wish sequels. Rather than going up solely against a trio of bordering-on-psychotic jocks, Karl also has to deal with a small criminal underworld that provides the steroids and has hands in other shady ventures, which gives the story an infusion of variety; and rather than solely going up against these sinister forces, Karl has support in both a male and female mercenary along with a fat-slob electronics expert whose skill at bugging a room is matched only by his ability to unwrap a Twinkie with one hand (though this vivid character's eventual demise is lamely handled; he has to all of a sudden become brain-dead just so one of the villain's henchmen can get the drop on him). Whether it's Karl doing a one-on-one fight with one of the jocks in class, his expertly dealing with three baseball-bat-wielding baddies around and then in the school's indoor swimming pool, his well-thought-out decimation of the remainder of the two main villains, Radler stages the action sequences inventively and maintains spatial coherency so you know where everyone is in relation to one another -- they're not frenetically edited, and it helps that it's obviously Williams, and not some obvious stunt double, in the frame. The hero is someone we can root for, and in the well-characterized antagonists we can take some pleasure in their innate ruthlessness: they're more than worthy opponents whom the quintessentially righteous Karl ultimately does in to crowd-pleasing acceptance. And darned if the talking-heads scenes don't benefit from acceptable-enough dialogue, particularly in a touching bit where Karl defends his dead friend's dangerous choice of profession to his disapproving daughter. (Yes, as mercenaries they fight for a high-dollar paycheck, but the matter isn't so black-and-white -- in Kosovo, for instance, they were engaged against the very same enemy the White House administration waged war on.) Sealing the whole deal is Williams, who's a better fit for the part than Berenger, who was fine but unsurprisingly cast in that he'd played military types before in Platoon and Born on the Fourth of July; with Williams, bespectacled in the classroom and soft-spoken in his line delivery, he serves up all the right stuff, making his Karl a Rambo with necktie and proper grammar.

Earns a passing grade.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=26824&reviewer=327
originally posted: 04/26/14 21:11:55
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User Comments

4/26/14 Charles Tatum Meh. 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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  14-Aug-1999 (R)

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