Dangerous MindsReviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 08/11/03 19:48:32
You know those friends you have that start conversations off with the words, "I'm not racist, but..." - yeah, sure you're not. But people with that phrase in their vocabulary far outnumber those of us who snicker when we hear it, and for the folks that don't know overt racism when they see it, there are movies like this one, and Rush Hour, and Lethal Weapon 4, which take a tiny little tinge of anglo-superior thought and take it to an extreme. In Rush Hour we see Jackie Chan making funnies with the word 'nigger'. In Lethal Weapon 4, Mel Gibson goes crazy with the old "flied lice" chestnut. And in Dangeous Minds? Here we have the lesson that all the kids in the ghetto need to make their lives complete is an ex-Marine who looks hot in jeans and gives a damn. Really? Is that all those rough, edgy, streetfighting Latino kids called Juan need to pass calculus? Well damn, negro, let's hit that 40 and celebrate!Based on the novel, My Posse Don't Do Homework, Dangerous Minds is a flimsy adaptation of a flimsy book written at a time when mass panic about what happens in ghetto schools was rife. This was the time before whitebread kids in Colorado began arming themselvesand creating hitlists, when we all thought that life would be so much better in schools if only the 'poor kids' could stop smoking crack and start memorizing the names of Presidents. Now of course life is much better - the metal detectors have been installed and anyone who says the words "I'm gonna kill that son of a..." on school property is duly expelled, arrested and deprogrammed at a federal correctional institution. Eat you soylent green, kiddies, and don't mind the men with shoulder holsters standing behind you. They're here for your protection, yo.
So Michelle Pfeiffer is hot. Let's get that out of the way right off the bat, because it's as relevant as anything else in this film. Nobody really cares about the story at all. The male population watch the film and fantasize about those little Latina sluts, who you just KNOW would do it all at the drop of a hat, especially if you have an SUV with some hard liquor under the seat. The females, they fantasize about being a woman who beats the system and spreads good throughout the inner city using strength and passion and feminine wiles, as well as looking hot in Levis. And the fat kids, they fantasize that they can be the funny guy, like Pfeiffer's sidekick teacher buddy, Hal (George Dzundza), who smokes a lot.
Which leaves us with the story. Okay, so Pfeiffer's jobless. She's got no man. She wears dumb cowboy boots. Basically her life is crap, which means that if she weren't so ridiculously hot, we'd be about ready to ship her off to Wal-Mart for greeter training.
Thankfully, she's smokin', so we care. Which leads her to take on a job as a substitute teacher for a class of 'special needs' kids. In this case, 'special needs' means the kids are scary, mostly because they're black or Latino, or Blatino as the case may be. Some of them rap. Others sneer. Oooh, how is a white girl supposed to put up with that kind of rulebreaking!?! That kid said "dick"! And he wasn't even talking about Nixon!
Well, white girl does what white girls the world over have done whenever they found themselves in a Hollywood drama involving school kids from poor neighborhoods - they 'prove themselves'. Hot diggity, if you couldn't see the first and second acts of this film coming from the opening credits, you just weren't watching. The whole dang movie is about the white biznatch proving to the Latino biznatches that she's down, and the black biznatches figuring out that she's down in between having children out of wedlock and dropping out of school. Because, yo, black chicks, they do that. I saw it in movies a bunch, so I know it's true.
But wait! Proving yourself won't be easy when you're in goofy boots and you're white! You won't get no respect that way, you've gotta come over the other side, yo. So homegirl pulls some wickitywack kung fu shit in the classroom and the kids are like, 'Damn! Chick knows some shit!' and the chick is like 'You're damned right, homes,' which really connects with them because she's less whitebread than the other teachers, who are all in their 40's and never say "homes" unless they're talking about refinancing their mortgage, and they're all clearly spent after years of being fearful of minority-ness.
But Pfeiffer, she's not worried about catching minority-ness, because she's down. She'll even invite one of the little Juan guys out for dinner at a fancy restaurant, where white folks will sneer because he orders fried chicken. Because, see, the object of this entire film is to show us white folks that we're racists, and to demonstrate that by showing us totally stereotyped minorities and showing how they can be less sterotypical if we're not so stereotypically racist and accept the fact that they're all dumbasses without the first clue about how to operate in the real world.
Does that even make sense? It shouldn't, because it's all horseshit.
Basically this film could be summed up in three sentences.
1. White chick wants to do the right thing, but the minority students won't respect her.
2. White chick wants to earn respect, but can't get it because the parents of the minority students are mostly retarded.
3. White chick can't get respect from her teachers because the principal (who is black) is a total Bryant Gumbel and doesn't want her taking her kids on field trips to the amusement park because it's against school policy. The bastard.
So even though we're being preached to that we shouldn't assume minorities are bad, we're told they're stupid, they're uneducated, they get pregnant, drop out of school, their parents are idiots, and all they really need is to be thrown a candy bar once in a while and they'll learn calculus. There's a good little Latino monkey. Dance for teacher, Latino monkey. Maybe you'll get more candy if you figure out the square root of 693.
I mean, give me a break.
Most revealing in this whole stereotypical after-school special is that in the original book the film is based on, the students were never taught to find relevance in the lyrics of Bob Dylan, as they are in the movie. Instead, the teacher in the novel had the kids finding meaning in rap lyrics, which gets them to pay attention and subsequently start looking at poetry. It's actually a pretty good concept, but in Dangerous Minds, the idea isn't to teach the poor kids anything, it's to keep white audiences from tuning out. So instead of rap, we get long lessons about Bob Dylan, because rap is just nasty, all about cop killing and drive-bys and smoking crack and (shudder)... right?
Or is that the exact same kind of thinking that this movie pretends its trying to combat? Ah, Hollywood, your hypocracy knows no bounds.
This flick did some good business, even spinning off an ABC TV series of the same name with Annie Potts taking on the role of Whitebread Queen, but the whole concept was seriously dated before the film was even released. Consequently, the years have not been kind. Coolio is long since over the hill, the crusade to save Latino and black students has been replaced with the crusade to save gay students, and we're no longer "spending most our lives living in a gangster's paradise," now we're being asked to "hit me, baby, one more time."If lines like "you don't know what it's like... if I don't fight him, I can't hold my head up in my neighborhood," don't make you cringe, you may well enjoy this movie on it's next TNN Superstation showing. Me? I'll stick with the porno version - Dangerous Hinds. "There are no victims in this gangbang!"
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