Making The Grade

Director: Dorian Walker   
Judd Nelson, Jonna Lee, Gordon Jump

I'm really glad that I am an adult, and have been one for some time now. I'm glad that I can now get into R-rated movies when they play in theaters. (Oddly, I never had a problem renting R-rated movies from any of the video stores in my hometown when I was growing up.) I'm glad that I can go anywhere I want in my city without having to ask for permission first. I'm glad to have my own place and comfortably sink into my den of privacy. And I'm glad to know that I am free to go to a liquor store or bar and get a drink, even though my total alcohol consumption so far this year consists of just one beer. But there's one reason bigger than all those reasons I have just listed that makes me really glad that I am an adult, and that reason is that I don't have to go to school anymore. Oh, I am sure that you're thinking that you didn't like going to school when you were a child, but this feeling was more intense for me. To put it bluntly, I absolutely hated going to school when I was growing up. Not just for one or two reasons, but for a whole slew of reasons that seemed to increase in number with each passing year. There was the fact that, when we were all assigned reading groups in grade two, I was placed in the lower group. I never understood that - I was smart enough to know I was smart, so why was I placed in the lower group? (Eventually, I was promoted to the higher group - though I had to wait until I was in the last grade of elementary school.) Then there was gym class, which I had to suffer through until the end of grade ten. Being unathletic in every way always made this part of school a problem for me.

I definitely had a tough time going through school. But for every time I complain to myself (or others) that I had such a tough time going through school, I also thank my lucky stars that I was in the schools that I went to. That's because that, as horrible as the schools were that I ended up going to, they were a lot better than some of the other kind of schools I learned about when I was growing up. For example, I could have been sent to military school, which would have been a real nightmare. Having to get up very early every morning... having to constantly keep your room and personal effects clean for the constant inspections... and, of course, all of that military-style physical exercise you would be whipped through. Plus, I learned early on that the Canadian military was pretty screwed up. There was an army camp in my home town, for one thing, and it was so shabby that they didn't even have a fence (or guards) surrounding the property! (In fact, one night I snuck onto the property with my sister and his friends, and proceeded to get tipsy on beer. I stumbled into a ditch on our way out - one explanation as to why I have only had one beer so far this year.) Another kind of school I felt fortunate to not be in was in an academy, or any kind of private school. Sure, I read about wacky and hilarious adventures the kids in author Gordon Korman's Macdonald Hall children's book series had, but I knew real life was different. I knew the kids who went to such schools were from rich (read: snobby) families, and I would have stuck out like a sore thumb if I was in one such school.

I will admit that, despite being glad that I never went to a private school, there's a part of me that wishes that I had been born rich (and become powerful as a result.) So when I came across a copy of the private school comedy Making The Grade, I picked it up. I wanted to confirm the suspicion I had that private schools were no place for any person with a shred of common sense. But I have to admit that I was in part won by the hard-sell description on the back of the box, typical for those big-box MGM/UA video boxes in the '80s. See if you can resist this plot description: "Palmer Woodrow III is an embarrassment to Preppydom. He's lazy, a slob, and would much rather spend the next year goofing off than attending Hoover Academy. So when Daddy threatens to cut him out of the will if he refuses to continue his education, Palmer has no choice... he must hire a commoner to graduate for him. Enter Eddie Keaton (Judd Nelson). Owing big bucks to some hoods, the street kid from Jersey finds the invitation to pose as Palmer at Hoover for a year an offer he can't refuse. But can Eddie make the grade? Can a breakdancer who wears Halloween-orange polyester suits ever blend in with the Bifs and Muffys of the world? Can he survive a semester even in the prep school of last resort, boast the lowest SAT scores in the English-speaking world? Can he finesse a fox hunt? - or a foxy young heiress who makes him burn with passion? Can Eddie pull off the scam of the century? Making The Grade sets the no-socks crowd reeling on its duck-shod heels... and may have you reeling with laughter. It's a delectable bite out of the upper crust, a toast to non-statused adolescence. You'll wish the term never ends!"

Oh! Ho ho! Aren't you an adorable and precious little movie! Seriously though, I could understand if some of you readers might find Making The Gradethat description a little forced and therefore may be reluctant to check out the movie. And I would especially understand another reason why you would want to pass on the movie, with that reason being that Making The Grade was made by producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus during their reign at Cannon Films. After all, in the past I have reviewed a couple of their other youth-oriented comedies (Hot Resort and Hot Chili), and like most of Golan and Globus' other movies, these particular two movies weren't exactly examples of shining cinema. I thought I would be getting more of the same with this movie, but I was somewhat surprised when I sat down to watch it; there is actually some decent stuff in Making The Grade. For starters, it is significantly less crude in tone than other youth-oriented comedies of the period, Golan/Globus produced or not. Now, I'm no prude - I watch "R" rated movies all the time and enjoy them - but I have grown tired of watching adolescents with nothing but sex on their minds, and it was nice to see the youths of this movie wrestling with other topics. The movie is indeed rated "R" like most other youth-oriented comedies of the time, but it barely gets this rating. The one sex scene has no nudity, and the movie's one scene of nudity lasts only about two seconds. As for foul language, while the "s" and "f" words get uttered, there are only a handful of these utterances during the course of the movie.

Another thing I enjoyed about Making The Grade were the people in it, both the characters of the movie and the actors playing them. The only real repulsive character is (appropriately) one fellow student who has it in for Eddie, and to the viewer's delight, his nasty behavior gets punished several times during the course of the movie. The rest of the individuals onscreen are a bunch of agreeable people. As the real Palmer Woodrow, actor Dana Olsen plays his character as spoiled and determined to beat the system, but his scheming and dirty playing still comes across as very amusing - it's kind of a shame Olsen abandoned acting not long after this. Judd Nelson (in his first role) is a very likeable lead. His character is written to have his own desires and schemes as he plays in this charade, but never once can his actions be really considered selfish - Nelson plays Eddie as someone who has feelings and a sense of right and wrong even as he does what may be considered wrong. Andrew "Dice" Clay also appears (it was his first role as well) as a break-your-fingers bookie, and shows he can be funny without relying on raunch. However, the real star performance in the movie belongs to Walter Olkewicz who plays the prep school's coach. I have a feeling that one of the reasons why he got the role was that he greatly resembles John Belushi. Indeed, with his character's beer-swilling and slobbish attire, he seems to be imitating John Belushi with his actions as well. While Olkewicz may be an imitation, he does manage to be a hilarious imitation. His character gets some of the movie's best lines, and there is a real feeling of energy every time his character appears onscreen.

So the movie gets it right with both its tone and with its characters. What about its main intention, to deliver laughs to its audience? Well, there was a lot of intended humor that I will freely admit that I laughed at. The screenplay really mines these various wacky characters for a lot of comedy. As a bonus, I found some other stuff to laugh at that I don't think the filmmakers intended. It may have originally been cool to see Andrew "Dice" Clay dance to Frank Stallone's hit song "Far From Over", but as for now... well, it just adds to the number of laughs the movie delivers. So does all this mean Making The Grade makes the grade? Well, my thumb is pointing upwards, though it's at an angle between zero and ninety degrees. Despite my enjoyment of the movie, I did find a few significant problems with it. For one thing, there's the running time of the movie - it's 105 minutes, quite long for an adolescent comedy. Maybe that wouldn't have been so bad if the movie had really used the time to devote to advancing the plot and influencing the characters, but surprisingly a lot of what's in the movie does not seem to make any difference. We get a lot of scenes that simply have no consequence, and would seem to better belong in the "deleted scenes" section of a DVD. Then there is the problem found with several scenes that do seem to matter, but are ineptly used. These particular scenes abruptly end before we see any consequences, suggesting that there was a lot more filmed. My guess is that the original cut of the movie ran a lot longer that 105 minutes, and as it was edited down to a more commercial length, the various plots got cut back and the useless scenes were kept to keep the movie padded out. Whatever the case, much of the time the movie seems to be spinning its wheels. Still, unlike many other teen comedies, the makers of this movie undeniably got some key things right, and I will admit I would have been willing to see the never-made sequel (Tourista) announced at the end of the movie - they may have learned from their mistakes here.

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See also: Hollywood High, Hot Chili, Hot Resort