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Summer School: Life's a Beach Edition

One of the lesser big-screen comedies of the '80s, Summer School (1987) boasts solid direction by Carl Reiner, a lively score by Danny Elfman, and a tan, fit Mark Harmon roller-skating shirtless. Harmon plays Freddy Shoop, a flaky P.E. teacher foregoing his planned Hawaiian vacation to teach a remedial English summer school class. There are benefits to the gig, however — the teacher in the class next door is Kirstie Alley, back before she became scary-weird and started doing those Pier 1 commercials. The film's an odd little time capsule of 1980s hairstyles and fashions, as well as a pointed example of all the subjects that a mainstream Hollywood teen comedy would never dream of tackling less than 20 years later — two of Shoop's students, a pair of Texas Chainsaw Massacre-loving slackers (Dean Cameron and Gary Riley), swill vodka while toiling at a photo kiosk. Another student (Shawnee Smith, later of TV's "Becker") is hugely, unapologetically pregnant, and a free-spirited surfer chick (Courtney Thourne-Smith) moves into Shoop's house when her living situation becomes difficult, and then hits on him. Dealing with these misfits naturally brings out Shoop's inner adult as he makes a deal with his underachieving charges — he'll grant them each a favor if they'll knuckle down and actually study. Between teaching one girl to drive, bailing out the boozehound slasher-flick duo ("Fact: Alcohol kills brain cells," Shoop lectures. "You lose one more, you're a talking monkey"), and letting the kids throw a massive party at his beachfront home, what ensues is less hilarity than innocuous, low-key goofiness. And if none of that is enough to draw your interest, there's Fabiana Udenio ("Alotta Fagina" from Austin Powers) in a bikini. Paramount updates their previous bare-bones DVD release of Summer School with an upgraded "Life's a Beach Edition," which doesn't appear to improve the acceptable anamorphic transfer (1.85:1), while audio options remain Dolby Digital 5.1 and DD 1.0, both perfectly adqueate for Danny Elfman's jaunty music, which is a delight. Fans will enjoy the all-new extras, including a commentary with director Carl Reiner and star Mark Harmon, the featurettes "Inside the Teachers Lounge" (14 min.) and "Summer School Yearbook" (11 min.) with several retrospective interviews, a trailer, and a stills gallery. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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