Emperor's Club, The

Reviewed By wintermute
Posted 11/26/02 07:36:18

"Better than a kick to the junk..."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

...but only by a small margin. Emperor's Club is a tired riff on the private school cliche, a theme that small cast dramas should toss in the waste bin along with Judd Hirsch and Lance Henricksen's soul. Uninspired performances, meaningless subplots and empty sentimentality litter the screenplay with enough plot landmines to sidetrack the most determined prep-school audience.

To begin with, I went to a private school not unlike the one depicted in this film, with the notable difference of having mixed classes (thank heaven). This will obviously colour my perceptions of this film, especially when it comes to the rose coloured glasses director Michael Hoffman places over the camera.

To begin with, no students anywhere are this dedicated, well behaved, or so totally devoid of personality. Sure, we have the bookworm, the Indian bookworm, the rich bookworm and.....well, halfway through the film the rebel shows up too. Kevin Kline, who maintains a dazed smile throughout much of the picture, plays a teacher of classic western civ. who finds his faith in honesty, human decency, trust, love, government, and God thrown into a dizzying tailspin after a young student cheats during a trumped quiz not just once, but again, 25 years later! And not only that, the student in question, played by Emile Hirsch, is one of those kids who is smart and capable but doesn't apply himself. Egad! Who would have guessed?

Hollywood needs to realize that to pull on heartstrings and open up wallets audiences require more than canned soliloquies and a fuzzy picture of what it may have been like to grow up at a fictional private school in small town America. By midpoint, this film really begins to drag. Romantic subplots appear out of nowhere, fail to make any sense, and then again instantly absent themselves. Patchwork narrative struggles to hold together the last 40 minutes, but it is clear by then that the shallow characterizations and empty morality plays have already put to many holes into this listing single-hulled ship of mediocrity. A farfetched and ham-handed ended is tacked on to ensure that just in case we didn't get it the first time,

1 - Cheating is wrong

2 - Some people never change no matter what they might tell you.

3 - Having a code of ethics is important, especially if you are a Roman emperor raping and pillaging and entire city.

4 - Your grade 9 Western Civilization teacher wasn't as quick witted as you made him out to be, so many years ago, when you were 14.

Unfortunately for Michael Hoffman, this film ultimately sends out a few different messages - rich kids lead lives of eternal privilege, and dishonesty pays off in spades when it comes to the business world. Good thing the audience in the theater with me was composed of 90 percent WASPs in their late 40's - I wouldn't want any impressionable kids to learn how to get ahead in the world.

Seriously, folks, don't bother with this by-the-numbers boarding school bore. High school is hardly the most formative time in a person's life, and anyways, I find it hard to empathize with super rich pathological liars who live in enormous mansions with their trophy wives. Morally bankrupt gets the big bank. We already knew that.

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