After watching the teens vs teacher, violent exploitation classic Class of 1984 recently, I thought I should check out the loose sequel – Class of 1999 – from Mark L. Lester, who also directed the first film.
What the hell happened here?
Instead of a focused, well acted and tense standoff between out of control teens and a well meaning teacher pushed way over the edge, Class of 1999 gives us a glimpse of a future in which teens, via schools (somehow), have taken control of entire districts and ‘free-fire zones’ are put in place. These zones are areas around schools where police don’t even dare to go, thanks to the dangerous teen gangs. One school in Seattle, plagued with these issues, is chosen as the testing area for a new breed of teacher: secretly cybernetic enforcers created to carry out extremely tough discipline – with no mercy given. Ex-gang member Cody Culp is released from prison and back into the school system as the trio of cyborg teachers arrive. Though he’s determined to go straight and avoid more prison time, the extreme methods of the new faculty members puts Cody and his fellow students on a collision course with the teachers – with explosive results.
If that synopsis sounds like a bit of a garbled, stupid mess…well, so is the film. It’s a weird, cheap-looking action film with sci-fi elements that rips off films like Mad Max, The Warriors, Escape from New York and The Terminator incredibly brazenly, but without any of the inventiveness, focus or style that those films made of their own relatively meagre budgets. It’s almost unbelievable that Class of 1999 is even by the same director as the first film; though Class of 1984 was ridiculous in its own ways, it at least had a sense of escalation, a strong central protagonist and felt like it was a film about a failing school system.
Here, all of the characters are sketched so thinly and the story’s events so ridiculous that it’s impossible to root for anyone – and the school setting feels almost like an afterthought. Even usually reliable actors, such as Malcolm McDowell and Pam Grier, are completely wasted in tiny, thankless roles – and Stacey Keach, who looks like he’s wandered out of an 80s cyberpunk animé (with the film’s only ‘futuristic’ makeover), hams it up to a ridiculous extent. In fairness though, the material is better served by the OTT, amusingly tongue-in-cheek performances of veterans like Keach than the younger actors in the cast who take the silly script far too seriously.
The action – with the film arriving a few years before CGI started to be employed in movies of this nature – at least has a pleasingly tangible feel (and the Foley artist certainly earned their keep, given how loud even footsteps are throughout the film, let alone the rest of the sound effects). The practical and prosthetic effects are hugely variable in quality, though admittedly some are pretty inventive despite the obvious low budget. The pyrotechnics and stunts are clearly where Lester’s expertise lies though, with these being impressively implemented and shot – even if they don’t always make a lot of sense within the events that unfold.
If you switch your brain off and leave it at the school gates, you might have some fun with the daft, derivative Class of 1999. Even on those terms though, there are far better B-movies out there to waste 90 minutes of your time on.
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