The Substitute makes the grade; Cats and Dogs a warm, fuzzy treat

by Tommie Espinosa and Juanita Banda

Daily Cougar Staff

It's always party time when a substitute enters the classroom, but when Tom Berenger's on the job, look out, Michelle Pfeiffer, because it means war.

The Substitute is a combination of the roughnecks in Dangerous Minds and the fast-paced action of Clear and Present Danger. Tom Berenger plays Shale, a gritty mercenary trained to overpower dictators and topple governments, who decides to teach a lesson to Miami's gang-and drug-infested public school system after his schoolteacher girlfriend, Jane Hetzko (Diane Venora), is viciously assaulted by thugs under the command of one of her students, Juan Lacas (Marc Anthony).

Anthony is the head of the Kings of Destruction, or K.O.D., a gang that rules Columbus High School. Claude Rolle (Ernie Hudson) is the iron-fisted cop-turned-principal who attempts to maintain order at Columbus High.

With his military background, Shale is able to overcome the drug war that this once-peaceful Miami high school is involved in. Berenger displays a tough-guy image, with a muscular build and rough face. This is an overpowering character.

The film features two rising Hispanic actors who give promising performances. Anthony is a renowned singer throughout Latin America, the United States, Europe and Japan. Raymond Cruz (Under Siege, Blood In Blood Out) is also featured as Joey Six, a mercenary soldier. Cruz portrays his character in a diligent and skillful manner.

An interesting aspect of the film is its use of actual teen gang members from Miami. By utilizing their backgrounds, the dialogues and behaviors in the production are more realistic. The teen gang members created hand signals specifically for this production and also changed the name of the gang from Knights of Darkness to Kings of Destruction, to make them seem more powerful.

Although the movie is average overall, the action scenes get a definite "A+," and audience participation adds a humorous twist to the seemingly serious story on screen. It's hardly a contender for the honor roll, but a Substitute like Shale will make you think twice before skipping class.

by Joey Guerra

Daily Cougar Staff

After stealing the show in a couple of less-than-successful movies (Reality Bites, Bye Bye Love) and showcasing her caustic wit on The Larry Sanders Show, Janeane Garofalo finally comes into her own in The Truth About Cats and Dogs, another delightful case of mistaken identities and destined-to-be romances that could only be found in the movies.

Garofalo is Abby Barnes, a veterinarian and talk show host (hence the film's title) who sees herself as less than beautiful, especially after she "accidentally" meets Noelle Slusarsky (Uma Thurman) during an argument with her jerk of a boyfriend.

Things get heated when Brian (Ben Chaplin) calls up for some sound advice from Abby on his roller skating Great Dane. Unlike her outside persona, Abby's phone talk is sexy and witty, instantly charming Brian.

What follows is an undeniably funny, sweet and smart story that takes a heavy dose of Cyrano de Bergerac. The two women, one plain and smart, the other gorgeous and insecure, keep Brian in the dark as to who's really who, forming a surprisingly strong friendship along the way.

This is one of the film's strongest points. As much time is devoted to Noelle's and Abby's friendship as is to Brian's budding interest in Donna/Abby. Credit for this original twist must go to screenwriter Audrey Wells, who was a radio talk show host herself. The script is smart and witty, never pandering to the lowest common denominator (i.e. pratfalls and other lame jokes).

The film is carried, though, by Garofalo and Thurman, who constantly surprise with their developed portrayals of the two women. Thurman shows comic timing and charm as the struggling model, and Garofalo proves to be an immensely likable leading lady.

Chaplin is serviceable as Brian, though not quite up to par with his co-stars. He plays it a bit too on-the-level. Nevertheless, director Michael Lehmann keeps the atmosphere crisp and alive, ensuring these Cats and Dogs a long, happy life.

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