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‘Dangerous Minds’

By Kevin McManus
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 11, 1995


John N. Smith
Michelle Pfeiffer;
Courtney Vance;
George Dzundza
mildly raunchy language and two fight scenes

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Happiness, if you're a high school kid, is having a sexy, charismatic English teacher who gives karate demos in class and rewards correct answers with candy bars. And happiness is having this teacher care so much about your well-being that she treats you to meals and visits your parents to find out why you've been absent.

Unhappily, "Dangerous Minds," which tells the story of such a teacher, merits only a C. And if it weren't for Michelle Pfeiffer, we'd surely be looking at a more dismal grade.

As a divorced ex-Marine who throws herself into teaching "at-risk" teens in East Palo Alto, Pfeiffer is a kick to watch. With her leather-flannel-and-denim ensembles, she looks like a gal who really could charm a rainbow coalition of adolescent gangstas and burnouts.

In an early scene she shows off a flashy karate move but declines an invitation to battle a class thug. "I'm not allowed to touch the students," she explains.

But of course she goes on to touch her two dozen pupils in profound ways. On day one, they threaten and mock her. But by semester's end they're explicating Bob Dylan's songs and Dylan Thomas's poems and generally behaving like aspiring collegians.

The sweet story turns stickygooey, however, as writer Ronald Bass sprinkles the script with saccharine lines that sound plain dumb coming from high schoolers. "But you can't leave us," one kid whines as Pfeiffer gets set to quit. "You're our Tambourine Man!"


Worse, director John N. Smith clogs the soundtrack with feel-good music that toys with your gag reflex.

After 15 minutes, you pretty much know where "Dangerous Minds" is headed, at least if you've seen "Stand and Deliver." The story rings trite even though it's based on the true tale of a dauntless California educator named LouAnne Johnson. The screenplay was based on her 1992 book, "My Posse Don't Do Homework."

Pfeiffer and the students (played by talented unknowns) make sections of the movie quite watchable. When their wisecracks fly back and forth in class, it sounds right. When sequences depict school corridors and city streets, it looks right. If only the filmmakers had used some subtlety in telling the story, they could have done right by the real LouAnne Johnson.

DANGEROUS MINDS (R) — Contains mildly raunchy language and two fight scenes.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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