“These things are like a bad, f*cked up, George Jetson nightmare!” So says Cody, the hero of Class of 1999 of the robot teachers who have been flipped their programming after being sent into a Free Fire Zone in Seattle. You see, an FFZ is an area, usually around a school in a major city where gang activity has gotten so bad that the cops have backed out and let the kids run wild. Except for in the school for some reason. Think of it as Escape from New York meets Terminator and Sister Act (or, I assume, Dangerous Minds, but I’ve never seen that).
If you’re scratching your head already and asking yourself “Why would kids go to school if they weren’t being told to and, oh, and had machine guns?” Yeah me too. It’s a plot hole that you could drive an armored bus through. There’s lots of said plot holes or just lapses in logic (Why to the robots only have fake skin protecting their important “organs” instead of an actual exoskeleton? Why are the kids more likely to believe that their friends died in highly unlikely accidental ways and not getting murdered by teachers?) Anyway, if you can look past the complete lack of logic and Cody’s TERRIBLE Corey Feldman impression, this movie is a whole boatload of weird 80s fun from 1990.
You remember the major cities and the explanation of the FFZs I mentioned above? We get that information thanks to a voiceover in the beginning that accompanies a map showcasing the worst cities. You’ve got Detroit and NYC of course. Then there’s Seattle and Cleveland (not the best places in the world, but not ones I would expect there to be a lot of gang activity at), but the best part? The dot that’s supposed to designate Cleveland is not where Cleveland actually is. It should be further up north. For all I know, the other ones are misplaced too, though I did check NYC and it seems correct, hey, I’m no geography nerd, I just know my state.
Anyway, we open with a white haired Stacey Keach who, for reasons never explained, sports a mullet that terminates in a rat tail between his shoulders and white-except-for-his-pupils eyes. He’s part of a program for the DED (the Department of Educational Defense) who has these teacher robots he wants to insert into Malcolm McDowell’s school. Also, for no real reason, Cody gets released from jail at the same time. Here’s some pics (thanks to this post, I figured out how to take screencaps!)
This is the first, non-CG shot of the movie, I swear to God:
And here’s the teacher-bots, including one of my all-time huge crushes Pam Grier! I didn’t even know she was in this movie, that’s just a bonus.
So, the story follows Cory who’s part of this gang called the Black Hearts. He doesn’t really want to get back with the Hearts because he wants to go straight (we’re not sure why and we don’t know why he was in jail in the first place), but his incredibly weird looking younger brother Angel is about to be initiated and all his friends from school are in the gang too.
Here’s Angel, I laughed every single moment he was on screen. He looks ridiculous, but that’s just future gang fashion, yo, purples and yellow all the way!
Meanwhile, he falls for McDowell’s daughter (why good kids are still in this school, I have no idea. Wouldn’t you bounce if kids could shoot guns in your police-abandoned neighborhood and your kid still wanted to learn?). His friends start dying thanks to the new teacherbots and he gets suspicious. He even saves McDowell’s daughter from being molested-at-best during the day on school grounds out in the open and gets beat up by the younger dude teacherbot and yelled at by McDowell. That’s just crazy!
He discovers the truth about the teacherbots and instead of just straight up going after Cody, the older one concocts this ridiculously complicated plan that includes killing some people and sparking a war between the Hearts and their rivals The Razorheads. Wouldn’t it just make more sense to, I dunno, crush him with your insane robot strength? So anywhere, there’s a gang war and we really get to see the Hearts in full form. Again, notice all the purple and yellow. At one point, Angel gets pulled over and they accuse him of wearing gang colors and he’s only got yellow and purple on. That’s just hilarious to me.
When THIS plan fails, the teacherbots make fake phone calls to the leaders of both gangs to get them to meet at the school to kill each other instead of, again, just killing these kids. This is when things go super-bananas. You’ve got dirt bikes and explosions in school, robot fights, the reveal of some of their awesome weapon systems and the uniting of the two goings (uh, spoiler warning?). While Cody and the leader of the Razorheads are searching the school to take down the teachers (“I’m going in there to waste some teachers – are you with me?”) they actually drive their motorcycles into the classrooms and around the room. Twice!
I was pretty impressed with the showdown at the end and the effects were pretty good (I’m not going to ruin it for you, but if you’ve seen the original VHS cover, you’ll see an approximation, if you see the newer Lions Gate version, you’ll see a way updated version). Each teacherbot sports it’s own hand weapon that was fun to watch, though where their robot hands actually go, I don’t know.
The real headscratcher throughout the movie is that there isn’t a really good character. I guess McDowell’s daughter might count, but she’s so one dimensional, she doesn’t really count. Like I said, we don’t know why Cody was in jail. It could have been murder for all we know. I get that he’s trying to turn over a new leaf and he’s served his time (after a fashion), but he’s still utilizing the people who are the problem (gang members) to take down other bad guys. I guess he could be labeled as an anti-hero, but I just wish we would have gotten a little more background on him.
But, in the end, the movie is just too damn crazy and fun to not enjoy on some level, even given all the problems. And I know some of you might be wondering why I had such high hopes for a movie about robot teachers teaching in a near war zone, but this movie was written and directed by Mark L. Lester who also directed the Jeph Loeb co-written Arnold Schwarzenegger masterpiece Commando . One other thing I want to point out about the story is that it actually has some pretty emotional moments. There’s a scene where Cody goes home and we see that his mom is just as big of a drug addict as Angel and the performances are really good. I think Bradley Gregg would have been much better suited if he wasn’t asked to/didn’t try to put on the Corey Feldman voice. It’s really distracting and I think takes away from the skills you can see under the surface.
Oh, also, they gave the Grierbot a nipple hanging out after she gets torn open and they show it a bunch. I was kind of embarrassed to be watching it on the train and even discreetly covered that part of the screen with my hand. But seeing as how this is the internet and a simple Google search for “Pam Grier naked” will come up with a number of hits (this site included now 😉 I figure this images ain’t so bad.