“If you don’t go to school, don’t graduate, you will be cut off. No trust fund, no allowance … you will actually have to get — forgive me for using the word — a job.”
Making the Grade, 1984 (Judd Nelson) The Cannon Group
By 1984, the Cannon Group had begun to test the waters of diversification by way of softcore prestige pieces, martial arts epics, and goofy comedies. Making the Grade represented a leap (at least for Cannon) into teen comedy. Considering the requisite criticism of the quality in Golan/Globus film productions, Making the Grade is a better movie than most produced in that specific subset of a genre. Dana Olsen (looking about 15 years older than he should) plays Palmer Woodrow who has one last chance to graduate from prep school, or else he’ll be cut off by his rich parents.
He’s in his seventh year, so he decides to do something about it. Of course, it doesn’t involve studying or doing any actual work. Enter Eddie Keaton (Judd Nelson) on the run from loan-shark, “Dice” (played by Andrew “Dice” Clay, and I think I now know how he got the nickname). For $10,000 (it’s always $10,000, isn’t it?), Eddie will impersonate Palmer at the bottom-of-the-barrel Hoover Academy. He needed the money! Oh! Sorry. Just wanted to get a little “Diceman” in there.
So who is Eddie Keaton? Remember “Poochie” from “The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show” episode of The Simpsons? That’s the closest approximation I can make to the character. Upon arrival, he shakes everybody up and knocks everybody loose. At a formal dance, he dazzles the crowd with his break-dancing skills. He romances Tracey Hoover (Jonna Lee), the granddaughter of the school’s founder. He becomes an inspiration to his classmates when he goes up against our “heavy,” this time portrayed by Scott McGinnis (more familiarly known as “Mr. Adventure” from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock) who is also the romantic rival for Tracey’s affections.
Tracey is impressed with Eddie’s down-to-earth personality and refreshing quirkiness, and at the same time repulsed by “Mr. Adventure’s” snobbery. If these two kids don’t get together, I’m trashing my living room! WKRP in Cincinnati’s Gordon Jump plays the besieged Dean of Hoover Academy, Mr. Harriman. As with most people in his position, he’s worried the school won’t receive the funding it needs to stay in operation.
This Prince and the Pauper variation has an interesting beginning and middle, but it runs out of steam the moment the real Palmer shows up. He’s just such a monumentally unlikable character, it’s hard to sympathize with his position. Eddie is hard to take as well, but Judd Nelson’s off-the-wall performance grows on you. It’s like he’s acting in another movie, which is his problem in most movies. He’s a “predator” as an actor, always seeking out corners and spaces where he can size up his counterparts and then rip them to pieces.
If there is a lesson for Eddie to learn in Making the Grade, it’s probably that he needs to face up to his responsibilities. Indeed, at the graduation ceremony, he fesses up to the gathered crowd and admits he’s Ironman—I mean Eddie Keaton. Poor Gordon Jump collapses and the ceremony ends in chaos and confusion. I don’t think Palmer learns anything. Even if he is cut off from his parents, he can always get back in their good graces, but to hire somebody to play him in school while he’s off skiing in Europe is unconscionable. Kids with trust funds, take note. There will never be any consequences for your actions! This is a decent movie. I don’t know why it got an “R” rating. It’s harmless.