Insomnia File No. 18: Only The Strong (dir by Sheldon Lettich)

What’s an Insomnia File? You know how some times you just can’t get any sleep and, at about three in the morning, you’ll find yourself watching whatever you can find on cable? This feature is all about those insomnia-inspired discoveries!

Last night, if you were suffering from insomnia at one in the morning and you turned over to one of the Cinemax stations, you could have watched the 1993 film, Only The Strong.

Only The Strong is an example of a film genre that is a personal favorite of mine.  This is one of those films where a dedicated but unorthodox teacher returns to his old high school and saves a bunch of troubled teenagers by teaching them how to beat the crap out of each other.  (For another example, check out The Principal.)  It’s hard for me to explain why I always enjoy these films.  I’m always tempted to say it’s because there’s a part of me that would love to be a teacher but, honestly, that answer is way too easy.  Add to that, if I was a teacher, I doubt I’d be one of the “I’m going to teach you how to beat the crap out of each other” teachers that tend to show up in these films.  It seems like that would be a lot of effort.

In fact, now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever met a “I’m going to teach you how to beat the crap out of each other” type of teacher.  I get the feeling that these teachers might not actually exist.  Maybe that’s why I like these films. For someone, like me, who went to a very nice but somewhat boring high school in the suburbs, a film like Only The Strong is the ultimate fantasy of what high school was like.

Anyway, in Only The Strong, Mark Dacascos plays Louis Stevens.  Louis was a troubled teenager but, luckily, he took a sociology class taught by Mr. Kerrigan (Geoffrey Lewis).  Kerrigan taught Louis that there was something more to life than just selling drugs and getting into fights.  After he graduated, Louis joined the Green Berets and spent four years living in the jungles Brazil.  In Brazil, he learned capoeira, a type of martial art that combines dance, acrobatics, and kick boxing.  In fact, Louis got so good at capoeira that, when he is recalled to the states, a village wiseman gives him a special instrument, a musical bow called a berimbau.

Louis returns to his old high school and visits Mr. Kerrigan.  He discovers that Kerrigan has been beaten down by life and is no longer the inspiring teacher that he once was.  He also discovers that his ex-girlfriend, Dianna (Stacey Travis), is now a teacher and she’s dating another teacher, Hector Cervantes (John Fionte).  Hector assumes that Louis worked for the CIA in Brazil and accuses him of organizing death squads.

Annoyed by what has happened to his old high school, Louis starts to leave.  However, before walking out, he uses capoeira to beat up a Jamaican drug dealer.  Everyone is so impressed that Louis is soon working for the high school, teaching 12 of the school’s worst students both capoeira and self-discipline…

(To be honest, as I watched the movie last night, none of the 12 students really seemed to be that dangerous to me.  It was difficult to imagine the majority of them ever committing a felony, though I could visualize more than a few of them waiting in line at Starbucks.  Then I remembered that this movie was made in 1993 and perhaps it was easier to scare audiences back then.)

It doesn’t take long for Louis to start to make a difference.  In fact, it only takes a four-minute training montage.  Soon, those 12 students are being respectful and thinking about the future.  Donavon (Ryan Bollman) is even remixing capoeira music and acting so worshipful towards Louis that you just know that he’s going to end up getting killed towards the end of the film, in order to provide Louis with the proper motivation to go out and kick some ass.  Unfortunately, the local Brazilian drug lord is not happy about Louis’s influence (especially after Louis encourages the drug lord’s cousin to spend his weekend camping instead of stripping cars).  Needless to say, it all leads to a violent showdown.  It also all leads to one of those inspiring graduation ceremonies that always tend to pop up in movies like this.

Anyway, Only The Strong is one of those films that currently has a 0% rating at the Rotten Tomatoes but I thought it was kind of fun in its own stupid way. (It probably helps to be half-asleep when you watch it.)  Even if you don’t buy into the film’s argument that it could be used to save an inner city high school, capoeira is a lot of fun to watch and Mark Dacascos has an appealing smile, which serves to set him apart from a lot of the other actors that starred in actions films in the 1990s.  Only The Strong is silly but fun, making it a good film to watch at one in the morning.


Previous Insomnia Files:

  1. Story of Mankind
  2. Stag
  3. Love Is A Gun
  4. Nina Takes A Lover
  5. Black Ice
  6. Frogs For Snakes
  7. Fair Game
  8. From The Hip
  9. Born Killers
  10. Eye For An Eye
  11. Summer Catch
  12. Beyond the Law
  13. Spring Broke
  14. Promise
  15. George Wallace
  16. Kill The Messenger
  17. The Suburbans

41 responses to “Insomnia File No. 18: Only The Strong (dir by Sheldon Lettich)

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