An unexpected triumph. Writer-director Ramon Menendez’s 1988 account (based on a true story) of how a math teacher at the mainly Hispanic Garfield High School in East LA (Edward James Olmos) turns a group of students into whizzes at calculus makes for a lively and rousing show. Working with a talented cast (including Lou Diamond Phillips, Rosana DeSoto, and Andy Garcia) and cowriter Tom Musca, Menendez reworks the theme of Blackboard Jungle without the sensationalism or the sexism, and proves that they aren’t needed to give his material a jolt. It’s virtually impossible to dramatize the actual teaching of math—Richard Brooks had even less success in showing the work of an English teacher in Blackboard Jungle—but Menendez tells the rest of the story with verve and apparent authenticity, and Olmos is especially effective in focusing the story with a minimum of liberal homilies and a great deal of unglamorous charisma. 105 min.