Samuel L. Jackson is one of the finest actors on the planet, but his film choices aren’t always flawless. Take 187 (the number that stands for murder in the California state penal code), a ham-handed melodrama that trivializes an important topic: the role of the teacher in a violent classroom.
Jackson plays Trevor Garfield, a New York teacher who relocates to a Los Angeles high school after being stabbed by a student he had failed. Understandably fearful of the hard cases in his new class, Trevor slowly regains his confidence. But how much? A mystery assailant is harassing trouble-making students. Teacher Dave Childress (John Heard) thinks Trevor is the vigilante Mr. Chips and cheers him on. Teacher Ellen Henry (Kelly Rowan) thinks so, too, and breaks off her romance with Trevor. The script, by former teacher Scott Yagemann, pumps up suspense at the expense of logic and dulls his point. Director Kevin Reynolds compounds a series of previous film felonies (Waterworld; Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves; Rapa Nui) by adding Hollywood gloss to a movie that should be raw and unslick. Jackson, mired in career quicksand, gets sucked right under.