An angered teacher on a murderous rampage is the subject of “The Substitute.” Trying for atmosphere rather than shocks results in a flaccid fable with performances (star Amanda Donohoe’s the only one playing it, rightly, for laughs) and tech credits on level with Cynthia Verlaine’s script: Give it a C-minus.
Donohoe, who should exercise more care in choosing her vehicles, stars as Gail Richards. A perfect pedagogue back home, she goes bonkers upon catching her hubby (Martin Martinuzzi) in the sack with one of her students.
“You made me look ridiculous!” Richards shouts before dousing them both with alcohol, setting them and her house on fire, dying her hair black and moving to a small town in Minnesota.
Assuming a new name, she’s accepted for employment as a substitute teacher while kindly old Jeanette Fisher (Sheila Paterson) recovers from open-heart surgery. But, though most of her students adore her, Richards (now “Laura Ellington”) just can’t start over.
She seduces a student (Dalton James), takes up with his father (Eugene Glazer), and assures herself a permanent spot in kindly old Mrs. Fisher’s classroom by frightening the old bat to death by baking her pet kitty.
Story has more holes than a golf course, starting with how “Ellington” was able to get a job without credentials or references.
Rapper/underwear model Marky Mark appears as Ryan Westerberg, a problem student with an unexplained Boston accent who’s quick to spot Miss Ellington as a “psycho,” and acquits himself well enough.
Pic, under director Martin Donovan, goes on, with more carnage (all offscreen or in shadows so deep you aren’t exactly sure what’s going on), leading to an ending — a twist on the old hand-from-the-grave — that hints that a sequel is possible.