Halloween Endurance Test: the Substitute 3: Winner Takes All (1999)

The Substitute 3: Winner Takes All is perhaps the toughest movie to watch that I’ve spent time with yet this year. Much like its predecessor (the one I watched at least) this one also doesn’t feature murderous, robotic teachers. It does, however, feature the robotic acting of Treat Williams! So I guess that should count for something.

There are some sequences that could be considered frightening if they weren’t so damn gross. The film starts with Treat and one of his mercenary buddies locked in a cage in Kosovo. In order to escape his buddy tells Treat to kill him. Moral, Treat delays ten seconds before applying the lamest choke hold this side of The Human Monster. Seriously, the fisticuffs here make Bela’s murders in that film look like they were produced by Tony Jaa. Treat murders his mercenary friend then proceeds to take what looks to be a retainer out of the guy’s mouth!

That’s really gross on a ‘down to Earth’ level.

Treat uses the slimy thing to undo the lock and escape back to New York. Where he does what every failed mercenary does, becomes a substitute teacher! At Eastern Atlantic University. Yes, that’s right, a university. No longer just beating up high schoolers, this Substitute is now taking on hoodlum college kids. Which is a premise that’s fundamentally flawed. Flawed worse than the original’s flaws.

Apparently the mob’s selling steroids to Eastern Atlantic University’s football team. Which is fueling their win streak. (No, this isn’t a documentary.) Thus the Substitute takes on the mob. A mob that relies on unskilled (i.e. untrained) civilians to win its battles instead of, let’s say, guns or other real weapons. This has two extremely dire effects: 1.) it prolongs the already laughable fight sequences, and 2.) allows Treat Williams to survive.

The ‘roided up, hyper aggressive students eventually assault a professor who just happened to also be the retainer guy’s daughter. A bad move for everyone.

Now if the university’s football team is that good, and making that much money for the school, shouldn’t it be a school we (the audience) have heard of? Or at least sound like a school we’ve heard of?

Obviously no school is going to allow its image to be tarnished by appearing in this crap. Let alone star in this crap and appear corrupt while doing so.

So we’re forced to believe that this successful university’s a place where it’s totally cool to assault your teacher; as long as it’s after hours. After hours in a pizza parlor for instance.

Here Treat confounds the most basic laws of physics. He uses a pizza serving tray as a shield to block a hoodlum’s punches. I personally don’t remember those trays being that thick. So their usefulness as protection is already in doubt. The thin metal seems more likely to wrap around the hand of whichever 300 pound, ‘roided-out football player who punches it.

Here it not only deflects the punches, but also serves as the perfect bludgeon for knocking East Atlantic’s star linebackers back to the stone age.

Even the actual mobsters prefer using their fists to guns in the film. Are squibs that expensive that low budget flicks can’t afford them anymore?

I came to see kids getting beat-up by ex-members of the military. Not to watch Treat Williams pretend he knows karate.

In fact the restaurant’s owner acts happy after the hoodlums are knocked unconscious. So how good could that football team be? At UF you could get knocked out for even bad mouthing the football team, let alone fighting them. Here not even the town’s general population hold the players in any esteem.

Television trivia dorks will be happy to know that the kung-fu fighting, vampire staking principal from Season seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer also stars here. Poor guy just couldn’t catch a break. He gets a spot on that show during its final season, and after working with someone like Treat Williams I can’t imagine he’d ever want to try film again. Poor guy’s probably laying sod in Naples by now.

[Post note: upon investigation it turns out it might not be the Buffy guy. Or he’s (conveniently and understandably) dropped the film from his resume, or worked under an alias. Or both!]

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