I’m writing this review from memory so you’re going to have to bear with me. 187 is one of those films that seems to show up on late night cable constantly, which is how I saw it. I probably should rewatch it for this review but … no. I don’t want to have to sit through it again.
See, here’s the thing with 187. It’s a film where Samuel L. Jackson plays a high school science teacher and, just by definition, that should make it the greatest film ever and yet it isn’t.
Originally, Jackson’s working in New York but then he ends up failing one of his students (played by Method Man). Method Man ends up giving Jackson a textbook on which he has written 187 on every single page. Jackson immediately realizes that 187 is the name of the movie that he’s in. “Always good to meet a fan,” he thinks but then suddenly, it dawns on him that 187 is also police code for homicide! Jackson asks the school administration for help. They ignore him (probably because everyone knows that Samuel L. Jackson is too much of a badass to be scared by some numbers in a textbook) and he ends up getting stabbed several times in the back.
We jump forward 15 months. Jackson has recovered from nearly being killed and he’s still determined to teach. He wants to make a difference! But he’s decided that New York kids are too homicidal so he transfers to a school in Los Angeles. Surprise! It turns out that students in Los Angeles are just as dangerous as the ones in New York. During his first day as a substitute teacher, Jackson is writing his name on a chalk board. Someone throws a crumpled ball of paper at him. Jackson flinches as it hits his back.
Now, here’s the thing: the idea of Samuel L. Jackson teaching in an inner city high school and taking on a bunch of gang members sounds totally kickass. And you spend this entire two-hour movie waiting for Samuel L. Jackson to have one of those wonderful Samuel L. Jackson moments when he fixes someone with that powerful glare and suddenly speaks in the voice of angry and vengeful God. You keep waiting but, with the exception of a few moments, it never seems to happen.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t expecting Jackson to say, “I’m sick of these motherfucking gangstas in this motherfucking classroom!” It would have been great if he had said that but, after a few minutes of watching the movie, I realized that he probably wouldn’t. 187 is obviously meant to be a serious movie about America’s educational crisis. Watching it, you get the feeling that 187‘s director, Kevin “I know Kevin Costner” Reynolds, woke up every morning and said, “I am making the most important film ever today!”
But whatever good intentions that the filmmakers may have had, it’s no excuse for totally wasting Samuel L. Jackson. When you’ve got a powerful actor like Samuel L. Jackson, why do you waste him in such a thinly written role? When you finally do allow him to do something big and Samuel L. Jackson-like, why do you waste so much dramatic potential by having him do almost all of it off-screen? Jackson finally does get a great Samuel L. Jackson moment towards the end of the film but that’s just because there’s a big plot twist that doesn’t make any sense. The end of 187 reminds the viewer that an ironic ending has to be earned. It just can’t be slapped onto the film.
I mean, I don’t want to toss out any spoilers because, for all I know, 187 is going to be on Cinemax tonight. If you’re up at 3 in the morning, you might end up watching it and God knows, I don’t want to be accused of giving away the ending. But let me ask you this — if you’ve finally captured someone who you’ve spent an entire two-hour film trying to kill, would you then suddenly decide to play a game of Russian roulette?
Anyway, 187 should be avoided because it totally wastes Samuel L. Jackson and that’s kind of unforgivable.