“It's like Die Hard, but in a school!”
I never thought I'd say this, but Masterminds is a pretty solid movie. And you know what? Toy Soldiers is a fucking masterpiece. I've found this new perspective from watching a double feature of teen Die Hard movies starring the once charismatic youngster turned sad trainwreck that was the late Corey Haim (RIP). These two films, also Executive Produced by Haim, fall somewhere in the middle of the previous two Kid Hard films covered on this site, and in the most baffling way. They have the lighthearted and juvenile humor/villains of Masterminds, but with the extreme violence and language of Toy Soldiers. Not surprisingly, these two styles do not mesh well, yet somehow it created a brief franchise that probably should have never existed. These films serve no purpose beyond being fodder for shitty columns like this by shitty writers like myself...and I'm sorry for that. At least you can avoid them, instead of being sucked into thinking they would be hilarious low-budget gems in the Die Hard knock-off canon. I'm not the brightest of people.
In 1996, Corey Haim introduced the world to his interpretation of the John McClane type, an uncharismatic high school student with bad jokes and an embarrassing haircut. Lenny Slater is a tough kid from New York that just moved to the suburbs with his cop father and we catch up with him on his first day at his new school. Of course, the local jock/cool guys have to give Lenny shit for well, being new...and being named Lenny...and being a “faggot” (the worst insult a teenager could toss at you in the 90s). But Lenny has street smarts, an unexplained martial arts background, and a neverending smarm on his side, so he stands up for himself and makes some new enemies. Of Course, Lenny gets eyes for the sweet popular girl/girlfriend of his new jock enemy. After a HILARIOUS misunderstanding involving spying on the girl's locker room (that's only separated from the boy's by a set of lockers that can be easily seen over by standing on the benches), Lenny gets sent to the principle's office. If that wasn't enough to harsh any dude's mellow, in the most bogus of fashions, a small group of doofy terrorists steal a warhead and take over the school to point it at the local power plant, OF COURSE. So now Lenny has to save the day using nothing but his wits and his ability to murder strangers without any thought or remorse. But boy, oh boy, does he have an arsenal of low-rent quips ready for these low-rent terrorists!
While Lenny is taking care of business on the inside, his father Slater, Sr. (T.V.'s Alan Thicke) is handling shit on the outside, dealing with the local PD and some trigger happy Feds. Learning that his own son is their best hope of taking out the bad guys, he works his ass off to help Lenny get (almost) everyone out safely, straight into the Thicke of the Night (nailed it!). The terrorists are led by Luther (played by an extremely creepy Jeff Kober, best known for playing Booga in Tank Girl, which is pretty awesome). He's joined by sexy killer Tanya (Melissa Brasselle, best known for playing Pleasure Unit #1 in Cyborg 3: The Recycler, which is just as awesome). She does her best to blur the line between cold-blooded killer and sexy dominatrix...giving both Corey Haim and myself all sorts of weird boners. These “professional” mercenaries get taken out by a kid with acne and the same bowl haircut I had in 4th grade, who uses everything from the dangers of shop class to a fire extinguisher full of sharp objects to straight up murder the intruders (he's basically what Kevin McCallister would be as a teenager), culminating with the whole damn school blowing up. So baby McClane saves the day, earns his father's respect, and even gets a date for prom, while the audience gets the urge to shrug. Somehow, this was not the end to this story.
“It's like Die Hard, but in a power plant...not actually in a college!”
How can the same shit happen to the same guy twice? Well kids, the direct to video market in the late 90s was still a pretty profitable business before the Internet was flooded by content that's ridiculously easy to stream (legally or otherwise). That means a little nothing film like Demolition High was able to move enough tapes to warrant a sequel, 1999's Demolition University. The off-putting mix of camp and ultra violence continues, while somehow making even less sense. Lenny Slater is in college now and while on a field trip for a class he isn't even in (same story, jocks hate him as he tries to slime his way into a girl's pants), Slater winds up in the middle of another terrorists scheme. Looking past the high school level field trip of this college class, complete with yellow school bus (I don't even remember ever taking a field trip in college), I in no way understand why they go to a power plant or why the professor (played by Laraine Newman*) lets this kid tag along anyway. The fact that a power plant plays a key role in both films makes me think there was some underlying environmental message to these films, but that's a rabbit hole I just don't want to go down. (*-Don Pardo impression)
They couldn't even get T.V.'s Alan Thicke back for the sequel, and that guy's been in THREE Not Quite Human movies! No, this time around the adult good guy is played by rugged Alan Thicke-type Robert Forster as the current sheriff/ex-military General who led the American turncoat currently working with these foreign terrorists. I'm not exactly sure where they are from, but they're brown so...you know, terrorists. These bad guys have some sort of explosive chemical weapon thing that they're going to use to level the power plant unless their leader gets released from prison...or whatever. So once again it's up to Lenny (I still can't get over our hero being named Lenny, or that he has an imaginary troll sidekick named Squiggy...just kidding) to kill all these nasty brown people, recover the fragile chemical weapon that keeps getting tossed around, and get the girl/earn the respect of the jock bully in time for the power plant to explode in the finale! He'll use his brains (and guns) to smarm his way through yet another terrorist encounter, even more boring than the last! Try as they might, they just aren't able to make the inside of a power plant look more interesting than the inside of a high school. At least by this point Haim had cut his hair and spiked that shit, in true 90s cool guy fashion.
These movies serve as a testament to why the Die Hard formula isn't always a slam dunk and why Corey Haim had such a hard time shifting from child star to adult actor. He was already in his mid 20s when he played the high schooler Lenny Slater and pushing 30 for his college counterpart, and it just wasn't cute anymore. He was past the point of believability to play a teenager, but not ready to be seen seriously as an adult, as proven by his later films with Corey Feldman in sex thriller Blown Away and sex comedy National Lampoon's Last Resort. Feldman suffered a similar fate, but as least that dude always had his music career to fall back on. When Haim died a little over a decade later at the age of 38, one has to wonder if his career suffered because he didn't have the chops for adult roles, or because we the audience just wouldn't let him grow up. Demolition High and Demolition University seem to prove that it was a little bit of both. Sure, he's not very good in either of these movies and can't seem to pull of the lone hero role, but there's really no reason he should have still been playing the smartass kid almost 20 years into his career, other than we wouldn't accept him as anything else. Sadly, we never got a Demolition Grad School: With a Vengeance with Corey Feldman on board in the Samuel L. Jackson role...that would have been the good one. Join me next time as another Expendable action star jumps on the Die Hard train...wait, this one doesn't take place on a train again, does it? Dolph Lundgren is the only man that can save the kidnapped Russian Premier at a rock concert in Moscow, just as soon as he finishes his drum solo, and it's a Command Performance!