The Principal

  • Directed by Christopher Cain
  • September 15, 1987

After an incident, a teacher becomes the principal of a violent and crime infested inner city school.

There was a period when the state of public schools was on was in the forefront of the public’s mind. Often stories about them were featured on the evening news. Into that environment came The Principal. In concept and execution, it feels more than a bit like Missing in Action where the hero comes in and rewrites history by essentially winning Vietnam. Only here the hero rewrites recent events and cleans up the inner city.

Jim Belushi stars as teacher turned principal Rick Latimer who is forced into the position after a fight at a local bar where he saw his ex-wife on a date with her lawyer. Former folk singer and generally great actor Louis Gossett, Jr. plays former football player and current head guard Jake Phillips. Rounding out the significant goodguys is Rae Dawn Chong as history teacher and tepid love interest for Rick named Hilary Orozco. Michael “I was Elias in V” Wright is our main villain, gang leader and drug dealer Victor Duncan who has the students and staff under his control through fear and general violence.

The Principal is a guilty pleasure and not a sophisticated discussion on crime or urban decay or violence in public schools. It is to give you vicarious thrills as you watch characters doing what you wish you could. In such a movie you only need passable acting to get you from beginning to end in a cohesive if not a bit implausible story.

The acting is much better than one would expect in this. While Gossett outshines them all Jim Belushi, Rae Dawn Chong, and Michael Wright more than hold their own with a young Esai Morales as Raymundo “Raymi” Rojas and Troy Winbush as Emile adding heart in some fine acting. Those involved putting their best foot forward rather than doing the minimum to make it to payday gives something generic for the era a bit of a boost.

The banter between Gossett and Belushi works well. You can see the progression from boss and staff member to reluctant friends. Belushi’s Rick even comes to find purpose and responsibility having started out the movie as an egotistical schlub punching the clock until something better comes along. Victor and Rick’s animosity builds from the first meeting with Rick trying to avoid it until he no longer can and walks towards it.

The asshole hero was very common during the 80s and in particular has been Jim Belushi’s general style in just about every movie. Given that this is more action than serious take on the problems of the inner-city school you don’t want somebody that could get in touch with their feelings or some such. You need a character that can be a fighter and that is what we get. He’s not overly handsome and he gives as good as he gets. 

Is The Principal an Oscar caliber film? No. Is it an enjoyable movie? Yes. They do a job good job of not only mixing in the action but a bit of drama with a few characters to demonstrate that Rick is indeed making a difference. You can complain about this being a white savior story but it’s just a movie folks. He doesn’t go in to save things because he’s white. He saves things because he is the right person to step up to the challenge. That is a narrative necessity in any story like this with skin color being unimportant.

My only issue is the interior of the school. While I have seen schools that look much like this one does on its interior, most have not and that can be an issue for the viewing audience. It should have been toned down.

The Principal is a great example of the hellscape inner city school movie genre. Maybe not a must see but if you’re perusing through some streaming service and it pops up as a possibility it’s worth checking out. Currently available on Amazon or YouTube.

Published by warrenwatchedamovie

Just a movie lover trying spread the love.

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