Picks and Pans Review: 187

updated 08/11/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/11/1997 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Samuel L. Jackson, John Heard, Kelly Rowan, Clifton Gonzalez Gonzalez

Yes, teachers may often feel like Rodney Dangerfield—they get no respect—but this confused, self-important drama, in which a Los Angeles high school teacher (Jackson) brutally metes out vigilante justice to his nastier students, isn't likely to raise society's view of the profession. The movie, named 187 after police code for a homicide, plays like a cross between Charles Bronson's vengeful Death Wish and Michelle Pfeiffer's more heartwarming tale of urban schooling, Dangerous Minds. (The end result is more likely to appeal to fans of the former.)

It's too bad that 187 is such a dog, since the always watchable Jackson has some fine moments as a brooding science teacher who cares just a little too much about keeping order in his classroom. Most of these scenes, however, come before he turns into a full-fledged Bronson wannabe, praying for guidance beneath a crucifix nailed to his bedroom wall and telling a comely computer teacher (Rowan), who astutely senses that something's amiss with his attendance rolls, "We can't trust the system to protect us."

As directed by Kevin Reynolds (Waterworld) and written by Scott Yagemann, himself a former teacher, 187 can't decide whether it's a valentine to courageous inner-city teachers or a revenge fantasy. Either way, the movie has misplaced delusions of grandeur, and the ending—which pays bizarro homage to The Deer Hunter—is too loony to be taken seriously. (R)

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