The Substitute - Movie Synopsis & Plot
The aphorism is blunt and oft-repeated: "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." But for Shale (TOM BERENGER), a gritty mercenary trained to overpower dictators and topple governments, teaching a lesson to Miami's gang and drug-infested public school system means nothing less than a call to action.
After a dangerous mission in Cuba, Shale finds himself and his team temporarily unemployed when his school teacher girlfriend, Jane Hetzko (DIANE VENORA), is viciously assaulted by thugs under the command of one of her students, Juan Lacas (MARC ANTHONY), the violent head of the Kings Of Destruction (K.O.D.) gang that rules Columbus High School.
With Jane in the hospital, Shale utilizes his covert skills, unbeknownst to Jane, to forge the necessary credentials and enter her classroom as a substitute. Little does he realize that his mission to find and punish those responsible for Jane's attack will expand and become larger - and more dangerous -- with each new piece of information learned.
To deal with Lacas and the K.O.D.'s stranglehold over the high school, Shale must first gain control of Jane's classroom. After a disastrous first class, he meets the force that maintains order at Columbus High, the iron-fisted Claude Rolle (ERNIE HUDSON), an ex-cop turned principal whose next goal is the mayor's office.
Following Rolle's maxim that "Power perceived is power achieved," Shale seizes control of his class by easily subduing two violent students, then winning the respect of the others with tales from his own past in the jungles of Vietnam. The kids identify with these stories of fighting and death and decide, maybe, that this substitute might have something to say that's worth listening to.
As Shale's reputation spreads through the school, Rolle seems strangely disturbed and protective of the K.O.D.'s leader Lacas. As Shale cuts deeper into toxic Columbus High, he comes up against a web of corruption, armed thugs, and professional drug trafficking - - pitting Rolle and Lacas on one side, Shale and his mercenary team on the other, and a high school full of kids in the middle. For Shale, the stakes have never been higher.