The Regis School is taken over by terrorists in Toy Soldiers.
As Toy Soldiers opens, an over-the-edge Columbian drug lord, Luis Cali (Andrew Divoff), has taken over a courthouse in his native country in retaliation for the capture of his father. The ruthless Cali is shown killing hostages and then the judge, but it is too late: his father has been extradited to the United States for trial on drug smuggling charges. Cali vows revenge against anyone standing in his way and storms off to America in pursuit of his father’s release. Meanwhile, we see a group of students at the Regis prep school pulling pranks against school authorities and local law enforcement, like spraying graffiti and moving the headmaster’s entire office out onto the front lawn. The students’ nickname for their alma mater is the “Rejects School”, because they are the black sheep sons of prominent and wealthy families, who have sent them to the all-male academy in a desperate attempt to get them educated while keeping them out of trouble. The main group of student characters includes Billy Tepper (Sean Astin), the leading rebellious student and campus prankster. Billy, who holds the dubious distinction of being kicked out of three previous prep schools, has basically been abandoned by his father, owner of a large international construction company, Others in the group include Joey Trotta (Wil Wheaton), the son of a New Jersey mafia don whom Joey hates, Snuffy Bradbury (Keith Coogan), the son of a bank chairman and vice-chairman of the Republican Party in New York, Ricardo Montoya (George Perez), the son of an influential lawyer; and Hank Giles (T. E. Russell), whose father is chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. The man whose job is to keep the students in line and out of trouble is Dean Parker (Louis Gossett, Jr.). When Parker catches the five drinking vodka and schnapps disguised as mouthwash, and talking to a telephone sex 900 number which they have gained access to by tapping into the school’s phone lines, he makes it his personal project to discipline Billy, making him recover all the liquor he has sold to other students on campus, and assigning him to clean pots and pans in the cafeteria. Parker tells Billy that he is not going to expel him, as that has done nothing to build his character. Instead he is going to wear him down with extra work until he graduates, even if it takes ten years.
Billy talks a tired Joey into helping him with his latest prank.
The next morning, some FBI agents come to the Regis School to take away one of the students into protective custody. His father is the judge assigned to the Cali case, and the government wants to take no chances. This concern apparently didn’t reach the border patrol, as Cali and a group of hired gunmen brazenly enter the United States, killing two border police and even blowing up their vehicle with explosives. The terrorists are able to easily invade and take over the Regis School, which they then wire with explosives activated by a remote control device that Cali wears on his wrist. Although Cali is furious that the judge’s son is gone, he soon realizes that he has basically the same bargaining chip, with a student body full of well-connected teens. When the terrorists take over, Parker is off campus meeting with the sheriff, and when the two of them discover what has happened, we soon see the FBI and a military anti-terrorist force brought in. But it is too late. The terrorists seem to have complete control of the situation, and all the government can do is react to their demands or face the horrible public relations disaster of teenaged hostages being killed. Never fear, film fans, this is America, and the same rebellious attitude that was directed toward campus pranks is now focused squarely on the terrorists. Led by Billy, the students come up with a plan to get information to the outside, deactivate the explosives detonator by substituting its controlling microchip with the similar chip from a remote controlled toy airplane owned by one of the students, and create the necessary diversions to accomplish their plan and evacuate the students when the inevitable counter response comes from the FBI and military. This is made possible by Billy’s thorough knowledge of every hiding place, heating duct, underground tunnel and sewer drain at the school, gleaned from his many campus escapades. Ironically, the US forces almost thwart Billy’s ingenious plans when he bravely sneaks off campus to give them the surveillance information that the students have acquired. If Billy isn’t back for the hourly body count, the terrorists will know something is wrong and will kill five students in retaliation. The military is not going to release Billy to return back to the school, despite his pleading and the concurrence of Dean Parker who also expresses belief in his students. Of course, Billy is able to escape from the US forces as well, and barely makes it back in time. The balance of the film is about the implementation of Billy’s plan and the final confrontation between the students, the terrorists, and the US forces.
Joey and Billy talk over their options after the terrorists take over the school.
Toy Soldiers is an entertaining action/adventure film presenting the familiar message that rebellious youth often have the courage and cleverness to become heroes in combat situations. The film works because the principal characters are well cast and credible in their performances. Sean Astin (also seen in Staying Together) is very convincing as the resourceful student leader who can handle adversity under pressure, because his whole life has been devoted to bucking the establishment. Astin knows when to back off when he temporarily loses a confrontation, but always shows renewed determination for the next round. Wil Wheaton shows some depth also in his role as Joey. His character has a hard and defiant edge from his upbringing as the son of an underworld boss, but at the same time demonstrates artistic ability as he sketches all the terrorists and their positions around the school, offers friendship and support to Billy, and shows great courage when he tries to take things into his own hands. Louis Gossett, Jr. expresses the stern leadership qualities you saw in Iron Eagle and An Officer and a Gentleman but also a sympathetic side that quickly communicates that he was no stranger to the ways of errant youth. Andrew Divoff is a suitably despicable villain as he shoots and terrorizes his way through the script that by its nature gives the bad guy the juiciest role in the film. Director Daniel Petrie, Jr. keeps the action moving and the tension high, so as you become engaged in the fine acting performances and production values, you don’t really notice the predictability and minor plot flaws of the story.
Joey uses his artistic talents to make sketches of the terrorists and their weapons.
Joey surprises his guard and overpowers him.
Wil Wheaton in his role as Joey wears black high top chucks throughout the film. There are a number of good camera shots of Wheaton wearing them, as he has in other films reviewed on this site (Stand By Me, The Last Prostitute, The Liar’s Club, and Pie in the Sky). The best action scene with Wheaton is unfortunately his last scene. Wheaton’s Mafioso father (Jerry Orbach) has arranged through his connections with the Columbian cartel to have Joey released. But Joey doesn’t like his father or his influence and refuses to leave his friends behind. On the way to the front gate, he overpowers his guard, grabs his gun, and runs out the front door of the school shooting. Another terrorist returns the fire, and Joey is shot down on the front steps.
Joey falls mortally wounded on the front steps after a terrorist fires back at him.
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