on August 01, 1997 by Dwayne E. Leslie
   There have been several good teacher/bad student films in the past few years, standouts among them "Dangerous Minds" and "The Substitute." This drama isn't quite in that class. In "187" (the California penal code for murder), Trevor (Samuel L. Jackson) is a teacher whose career is changed by a student attack. After recovery, he returns as a substitute at a different school--a school that has metal detectors and a disrespectful student body. In genre tradition, he is assigned to the worst class on campus. Using daily prayer for strength to overcome his anxieties, Trevor sets out to instruct and guide his pupils. When the rules don't work, however, he decides that extreme discipline is needed.
   "187" depicts regular teachers as burnout cases, there just to collect a paycheck. Once again, a substitute is the only one capable of handling troublesome teens. The film also emphasizes that students have more rights than their instructors. Written by a former teacher (Scott Yagemann) for seven years in the Los Angeles public school system, "187" shows evidence of all-too-real-life events and built-up frustrations.
   But, by the time the ending arrives, it's too little, too late. Though filled with insights, the film's episodic nature means "187" falls short of expectations. The film's intent seems to be to leave beneficial impressions on the school audience, but "187" makes its points too intellectually. It's a pyrrhic victory, benefiting the high-minded filmmakers but leaving the audience a casualty.    Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kelly Rowan and John Heard. Directed by Kevin Reynolds. Written by Scott Yagemann. Produced by Bruce Davey and Steve McEveety. A Warner Bros. release. Drama. Rated R for violence, strong language, drug usage and brief nudity. Running time: 120 min .
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