Plain Clothes (1988 film)

Plain Clothes
Directed by Martha Coolidge
Produced by Michael Manheim
Richard Wechsler
Steven-Charles Jaffe(executive)
Written by A. Scott Frank (Story)
Dan Vining (Story)
A. Scott Frank
Starring Arliss Howard
Suzy Amis
Seymour Cassel
Diane Ladd
Music by Scott Wilk
Cinematography Daniel Hainey
Edited by Edward M. Abroms
Patrick Kennedy
Distributed by Paramount Pictures
Release dates
  • April 15, 1988 (1988-04-15)
Running time
98 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $289,323 (USA)

Plain Clothes is a 1988 comedy film directed by Martha Coolidge and starring Arliss Howard. It was released by Paramount Pictures.


Undercover cop Nick Dunbar's (Arliss Howard) brother Matt (Loren Dean) is accused of killing his teacher, Mr. Bradwood (Mack Harrell) at Adlai Stevenson High School. Nick loses his temper with Hechtor (Larry Pine), the detective in charge, and gets suspended. Nick's partner Ed (Seymour Cassel) pretends to be Nick's dad to enroll him as a student. Matt gives Nick pointers to get people to talk to him. Nick deals with bullies, girls with crushes on him, teachers & staff who range from quirky to bizarre, and a teacher, Robin Torrence (Suzy Amis), to whom he is attracted who thinks he's a teen. The turning point in his popularity (and therefore his ability to get information) happens in the classroom metaphor scene, in which E.E. Cummings' poem she being brand new, is used in its entirety. The character Renard (Michael Huguenor), who had a large part in the script but was mostly edited out of the film, makes his only appearance in this scene.

Along the way, Nick and Ed narrow the probable motives down to jealousy (Bradwood was trading grades for sex with Dawn-Marie Zeffer (Alexandra Powers), the girlfriend of Kyle Kerns (Peter Dobson), the leader of the bullies) or self-preservation (Bradwood was blackmailing some staff about running a real estate scam on the other teachers). Nick's identity is discovered by Jane Melway (Diane Ladd), one of the con artist's gang, and it all comes to a head at the Pagan May Fest (the school's mascots are the Pagans). Nick and Ed find out that they are probably on the wrong track - Chet Butler (George Wendt), one of the gang's members is missing and an emotional confession from Melway points to Butler as the murderer - not to stop the blackmail, but because Bradwood was engaged to Melway, with whom Butler used to have an affair and whom he still loves. Bradwood also found the love letters in which Butler claims to have killed Melway's husband.

Butler appears and implicates himself with words and actions. A chase ensues, ending with Nick being cornered finding the evidence that cements Butler's guilt. Nick is saved twice in quick succession, once by a schoolmate's opportune distraction, and once by an excellent shot of Ed's at the perfect time. Nick makes a date with Robin Torrence, who now knows he is an adult, and the real-estate scammers are arrested. Hector looks very foolish. Matt is released from jail and can't wait to get back to school.



Plain Clothes was not widely distributed or reviewed with critics responding negatively to the film. In her review for The New York Times, Janet Maslin wrote, "Plain Clothes tries to combine a police investigation story with the usual classroom and locker-room stuff. Less would not necessarily have been more, but it would have been shorter."[1] In his review for the Miami Herald, Juan Carlos Coto wrote, "Potentially hilarious moments seem to straggle by like students playing hooky, and the whodunit plot gets dumber and more contrived at every turn."[2]


  1. Maslin, Janet (April 16, 1988). "An Undercover Return to High School". The New York Times. p. 18.
  2. Coto, Juan Carlos (April 16, 1988). "Plain Clothes Needs Dressing Up". Miami Herald. p. 3.
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