MOVIE REVIEW : The Campus as a Battlefield in Lester's 'Class of 1999'

Writer-producer-director Mark Lester, in his "Class of 1999" (throughout San Diego County), gives us a vision of big city high school life in the near future that's uncomfortably close to the possible. He predicts that in a losing war against drugs, and with the continuing erosion of adult authority, cities will be forced to declare Free Fire Zones in which youth gangs rule without interference from police. High schools will require guard towers and metal detectors.

However, the new principal, Langford (Malcolm McDowell), at such a school (in Seattle) feels even more is needed to control campus violence. To this end he's called upon spooky Dr. Forrest (Stacy Keach, wearing a silver mane of hair and pale contact lenses) of the Department of Educational Defense. Keach promptly presents him with three new teachers for his faculty (John P. Ryan, Pam Grier and Patrick Kilpatrick). They'll be sure to make a difference because they're androids.

Lester is a master at turning out exploitation pictures underlined with outrageous dark humor and social comment. However, there's a limit to how much violence even as expressive and controlled a filmmaker as Lester can sustain. With two of the androids managing to kill two kids by the end of the first day of school, the "Class of 1999" swiftly short-circuits on unspeakable, incessant brutality and bloodshed. Caught up in the mayhem are Bradley Gregg as a smart teen-ager who's outgrown gangs, Traci Lin as Langford's pretty daughter--why isn't she going to school in the suburbs where she lives?--and Joshua Miller as Gregg's tough, loyal kid brother. With "Class of 1999" (rated R) Lester was on to a potent idea, but this time he sold himself short.

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