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Movie Review : Good Marks--harmon And 'Summer School'

July 22, 1987|KEVIN THOMAS | Times Staff Writer

In the bright and bouncy "Summer School" (citywide), it's countdown time at Oceanfront High. With only seconds to go before the start of summer vacation, gym teacher Freddy Shoop (Mark Harmon) is ready to rush off to Hawaii with a blonde--only to find himself strong-armed into teaching remedial English.

Laid-back Freddy, alas, needs to shape up just as badly as his students, and that's part of the fun of "Summer School." It's no thigh-slapper like the Rodney Dangerfield's "Back to School," but it's exceptionally good-natured and perceptive, and Harmon, in his first starring screen role, is a real charmer. His Freddy wears Hawaiian shirts as well as Tom Selleck does, and Freddy is equally disinclined to take life too seriously. At first he even has the notion that he and the kids can party away the summer.

His students are virtually his counterparts, yet each is so much an individual they all need to be identified and described. There are the irrepressible prankster buddies Chainsaw (Dean Cameron), so nicknamed for his passion for horror flicks, and Dave (Gary Riley); blond surfer Pam (Courtney Thorne Smith), who would love to make waves with the teacher; pretty Denise (Kelly Minter), whose dyslexia has never been diagnosed; nerdy Alan (Richard Steven Horvitz); good-looking Larry (Ken Olandt), whose chronic sleepiness has a surprising cause; lovely foreign student Anna-Maria (Fabiana Udenio), and pregnant, unwed Rhonda (Shawnee Smith), whose plight brings out a sweet protectiveness in a football player (Patrick Labyorteaux).

The course of "Summer School" is easy enough to predict, yet it's not just another routine teen summer movie. What sets it apart from most of its kind is that director Carl Reiner and writer Jeff Franklin (who collaborated on the original story with Stuart Birnbaum and David Dashev) clearly care for these youngsters. "Summer School" is not just one more depiction of teen-agers as all emotion and no thoughts except of sex.

These are all likable, almost unbelievably articulate kids, but, like Freddy, they need to grow up. They need to discover why it's important to have an education and to take responsibility for themselves. As Freddy becomes aware of these things, he realizes that he has a gift for communicating with youngsters in the classroom as well on the football field. Harmon's Freddy is so convincing that there is no reason why the film makers shouldn't have depicted him, if only for a few seconds, teaching the kids how to write a sentence, the parts of speech and how they fit together. Learning, after all, is a pleasure--and if it isn't, you really haven't learned; "Summer School" might have spelled out this truth a bit more clearly.

Reiner, who appears briefly as a teacher with a winning lottery ticket, knows how to keep things flowing gracefully, and "Summer School" certainly looks good. There's much pleasant, easy repartee between Freddy and Kirstie Alley as a witty, gorgeous brunet teacher who knows what being adult is all about. Robin Thomas' prissy, self-absorbed principal is an amusingly perfect example of why kids can be so apathetic about school. "Summer School" (rated PG-13, but plenty of strong language) is full of high spirits, yet with a serious undertow that gives it unexpected substance.

'SUMMER SCHOOL' A Paramount presentation. Executive producer Marc Trabulus. Producers George Shapiro, Howard West. Director Carl Reiner. Screenplay/associate producer Jeff Franklin; from a story by Stuart Birnbaum, David Dashev and Franklin. Camera David M. Walsh. Music Danny Elfman. Production designer David L. Snyder. Film editor Bud Molin. With Mark Harmon, Kirstie Alley, Robin Thomas, Patrick Labyorteaux, Courtney Thorne Smith, Dean Cameron, Gary Riley, Kelly Minter, Ken Olandt, Shawnee Smith, Richard Steven Horvitz, Fabiana Udenio, Frank McCarthy, Tom Troupe, Lucy Lee Flippin, Amy Stock.

Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

MPAA rating: PG-13 (parents are strongly cautioned; some material may be inappropriate for children younger than 13).

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