Yes, kids, the star of ACCORDING TO JIM was once considered a major movie star. You could tell, because he changed his billing to the more serious “James” Belushi. His blue-collar charm is well-suited for 1987's THE PRINCIPAL, an exploitation take on LEAN ON ME obviously influenced by BEVERLY HILLS COP.
Belushi plays screw-up high school principal Rick Latimer, a tough but sensitive lug punished for messing up his ex-wife’s boyfriend’s sports car with a baseball bat by being assigned to the nastiest school in the district. The student body at Brendel High consists mainly of kids who have already been expelled from every other school in town and have settled into hopeless lives of truancy, drugs, vandalism, and misanthropy. What else they have in common is their fear of Victor Duncan (Michael Wright), the psycho SMOC (Scariest Man On Campus) who rules the school and finds a hard-headed enemy in Latimer, who decides to clean up his own life by cleaning up Brendel.
Director Christopher Cain (YOUNG GUNS) and writer Frank Deese (AMAZING STORIES) take their cue from BEVERLY HILLS COP in combining belly laughs with brutal violence. With Wright’s off-kilter performance providing the perfect balance for Belushi’s deftness with wisecracks and swinging fists, THE PRINCIPAL mostly pays off. Louis Gossett Jr. is mostly wasted as Belushi’s security guard sidekick, though he does have fun with his line readings, and Rae Dawn Chong (COMMANDO) shows up to look good and play the victim. Belushi moved up to co-star with Arnold Schwarzenegger in RED HEAT next.