Shortly before Christmas, Jason Copeland (Rick Schroeder) decides to take out his pent-up revenge on Johnson High School, which he failed out of a year earlier. He enters the school heavily armed and begins firing shots, with no intention to kill anyone, and takes 80 students hostage in the music room. One of them Aaron Sullivan, is a troubled student, much like Jason, who soon becomes the middleman to Jason and makeshift hostage negotiator/small town cop/unlikely hero Skip Fine (Henry Winkler, in one of his many great performances). Aaron must speak to Skip on the phone, explain Jason's demands, and keep his classmates alive. He'll be a hero if he can accomplish these tasks, but can Skip help him to break through to Jason?
The performances in this film are exceptional for a TV-movie. At times, I found myself huddling up, especially the part when Jason puts the gun to a crying Samantha's (Katie Wright) head. He forces lookouts into the hallway, and insists that a cop entering the school or a student fleeing will result in bloodshed. I was so scared every time a student fled going to the bathroom. I was particularly freaked out when Darren, the sole African-American student, was killed being selfless by protecting a classmate. My heart skipped a beat as his determined, hysterical mother tried to find out of Darren was alive. We also saw glimpses of Aaron's scared mother, hoping that her son stays one step ahead of Jason to keep himself and his classmates alive. Freddie Prinze Jr. puts on an incredible performance, and looked so young (he still does). He was only about 20 years old then (my age), and I'm glad a better hairstyle was forthcoming for him. Henry Winkler is a great actor, and he's just the kind of unlikely hero you'd expect. In my opinion, casting on his part was a great decision.
If you like true-life dramas (this was based on reality), and like to see an unlikely individual prevail, then this is a great movie for you. It's well-written and smart, and you'll be left cheering for Prinze and Winkler. Rick Schroeder also puts on a great performance, and can scare and shake up the most unnerved person (myself included). If you can find this movie at your video store, definitely pick it up.