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Artisan Home Entertainment presents
The Substitute 4: Failure Is Not An Option (2000)

"They're telling us to come out and die like men. Also, something about our mothers and...farm animals??"
- Treat Willams

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: April 26, 2001

Stars: Treat Williams, Patrick Kilpatrick, Angie Everhart
Other Stars: Bill Nunn, Tim Abel
Director: Robert Radler

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: R for (violence, sexuality, some language)
Run Time: 01h:27m:12s
Release Date: April 24, 2001
UPC: 012236117353
Genre: action

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- C+B-B+ C+

DVD Review

The Substitute series of films has been one of my recent guilty pleasures. As the first entry had only a minor theatrical presence, the sequels were specifically made for cable television. The original film starred Tom Berenger as an ex-special forces soldier who pretends to be a substitute history teacher in order to get his way into a rough, urban high school and clean out the bad guys. The sequel replaced Berenger's character with Karl Thomasson, played by Treat Williams (it is a VERY common misnomer that Treat is still playing the same person from the first film). Substitute 2 and 3 basically followed the same formula, where Thomasson, another ex-mercenary type, disguises himself in the same manner to infiltrate high schools. These movies, though highly implausible, were generally entertaining; a kind of rainy-day action film with some honest values like good character actors and a solid, pulp-fiction-y kind of story.

In the fourth entry, Failure Is Not An Option, Karl is asked by an old friend to investigate weird goings-on at a military academy. In the academy, the new Commandant, Brack (Patrick Kilpatrick), has created a new, special training division known as the Werewolves. The Werewolves are basically a neo-Nazi group who have isolated themselves from the rest of the academy, and are to be used to carry out a weird campaign of racism invented by Brack. Karl inserts himself into the school, but soon discovers the nature of this group, and uses his other contacts in the school to begin figuring out ways to stop the Werewolves.

Unfortunately, the problem with Substitute 4 is that it's just very dim. The previous films never had great plots or anything, but this storyline reels way out of control by the end of the film, and this Nazi conspiracy going unchecked in a military academy is so far fetched that you're never really able to let go of your disbelief. All of the familiar Substitute elements are here, but it's just not much fun. I guess making Karl Thomasson take on issues as heavy as Neo-Nazism just doesn't have the same ring to it. In addition there are some amazingly inept portions of the script that make Karl seem rather bad at his job, instead of the expert we know him to be. He is easily bamboozled into almost getting killed by these teenagers, and also fails to stop them from commiting acts of terrorism when he's actually at the site with them, sneaking around.

Perhaps most disturbing is the badly stereotyped performances that the Nazi folks give. Obviously, it doesn't take a whole lot of talent to create a racist character, but it does to give him some 'flesh.' The teens and their barking commander are just too laughable as racists to even be taken seriously, which again hurts the concept of the film. Now, I'm no fan of Neo-Nazi's, but making someone just run around screaming "White Power" is ridiculous, really. If these guys were really scary, they'd be more subdued, intelligent, and calculated. They also wear all this on their sleeves, meaning that only a blind, deaf, and dead person would not notice what was going on the academy. So, it seems rather ludicrous that all this facist terrorist activity would ever have gotten off the ground without the cooperation of everyone in the school.

I'm sure a lot of copies of Substitute 4 will fly off the rental shelves because of the promise of "sultry" co-star Angie Everhart (former supermodel), who has spent an inordinate amount of time in skimpy outfits in front of the camera. Well, she's a very minor character, only in about 10-15 minutes of the movie. She makes a good appearance, actually; but, of course, has to do at least ONE nude scene. This disappointed me since, for over half the film, she makes a respectable, sexy supporting character solely through solid talent, so I think I have a big issue with the director using her in the end like that.

Fans of the series will watch the entire movie, chuckle at the better scenes, enjoy Treat Williams' few good fight scenes, and really dig on the great, character-driven performances of Patrick Kilpatrick (a great screen villain) and Bill Nunn, but will ultimately wonder what the heck they just witnessed. It's like they assembled the cast and crew again, but no one really had the energy or steam to make this one count. There's also very little action or excitement until the final reel, when a few good fight sequences lead up to a laughable conclusion (believe me, you WILL laugh), and then that empty feeling sets in. I'd love to see a Substitute 5, but only if they get back to basics of making good serial adventure stories, rather than injecting the ridiculous seriousness they did here.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1:77:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image looks pretty good except for a very obvious, and continual amount of heavy grain and movement. Almost every scene is plagued with shimmer in any stationary texture (walls, the sky, etc..). It only becomes distracting a few times, but it is indeed something that goes throughout the entire presentation. Otherwise, the colors are very nicely defined and there are no other complaints.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix should be referred to as the "chirping and tweeting" audio feature. Now, it's not a bad mix, but I had to laugh at the fact that virtually everything that comes out of the surrounds is either a bird chirping or tweeting. Much of the movie takes place outdoors and the surrounds are used to full ambience with "outdoorsy" sound effects used appropriately, but 90% is literally birds. The fronts are used fairly well with good balance and directionality. There was very little, if any, subwoofer usage, but then there really isn't much call for it in the movie, despite it being an action picture. The 2.0 Spanish track suffers from a few minor problems, mainly the Spanish dubbing being about 2 decibels louder than the sound effects, so it sticks out too much.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Robert Radler
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: The full-length commentary by director Robert Radler (who also worked on Substitute 3) is worth a listen, at least for a little while. He tells a lot of stories and anecdotes about certain people in the cast, how some scenes were ad-libbed, and general information regarding production. He's a bit on the dry side, making the commentary a little boring, but it's also highly technical and professional.

The 2 deleted scenes are no big deal. The first is a long ballroom dance sequence that was removed, for obvious reasons. Interestingly, they hired world-class dancers to perform the scene, and only a few seconds actually got into the movie. The second scene is just some funny outtakes from insert shots between Bill Nunn and Treat Williams.

A photo gallery with promotional material is presented, as well as filmographies for most of the cast and crew. The production notes feature is simply a text file about the making of the film. A short essay about the movie, written by Robert Radler, is inside the keepcase insert.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

The Substitute movies are purely late-night, brainless movie fare, but entry number 4 abandons too much intelligence, leaving us with a two-dimensional story that has no grasp on reality. It's moderately entertaining, and legitimate Substitute fans might like it, but overall, this cast and crew could do (and have done) much better. Try it on rental.


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