#034

The Emperor's Club
Universal DVD

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The idea of Kevin Kline as an inspirational teacher at a private boys' school evokes a sense of déjà vu, even though it was actually Robin Williams who played this role in Dead Poets Society almost fifteen years ago. In fact, for the first third of Michael Hoffman's The Emperor's Club, there's a sinking feeling as we watch classics teacher Kline breach the sullen rebellion of one of his students (Emile Hirsch as a spoiled senator's son) and begin to affect one of those rousing educational triumphs that every parent dreams of for their child.

If this was all that happened in The Emperor's Club, there would be nothing more to say, except to perversely regret the days when films set in private schools set the stage for acts of desperate student rebellion, in the hopes of suggesting that school is a metaphor for society, and not some idealized version of it, a fantasy that most of us would have a hard time swallowing if we were honest about our own schooltime memories.

But Hoffman's film, based on Ethan Canin's novella, takes an interesting turn, when it transpires that Kline fails his charge, whose latent cynicism inspires him to cheat, and whose father's influence protects him from the consequences. The rest of the film pursues the fallout from that moment, and very gingerly attempts a critique of a society-wide moral failing that's grown ripe, spawning Enrons and Global Crossings, lying reporters and questionable elections.

The Emperor's Club is about morality, but its outrage is timid, a muted sort of protest that finds its expression in Kline's trademarked swashbuckling disdain, photographed as tastefully as the school's ivy-covered campus, and with about as much reverence. Includes a "making-of" featurette infused with a dismaying sense of self-congratulation, as if the film had set in motion some agonized spasm of society-wide self-examination; if it did, I'm afraid I missed it.

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The Hot Chick
Touchstone DVD

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Rob Schneider's formulaic but popular comedies have so far seen him play a loser turned into a gigolo, an animal and, now, a teenage girl. Future films will no doubt see him harvest laffs as a loser transformed into a microwave, a mountain range, a UN relief worker and a Starbucks franchise.

When an ancient pair of earrings force cheerleader Jessica (Rachel McAdams) to switch bodies with low-life scumbag Schneider, what ensues is more often than not mere set up for gags based on flatulence, the male member, and gay sex. Schneider lisps and minces through a performance that's more The Birdcage than teenage girl, but since no one's expecting Oscar-worthy turns here, he gets away with it as long as every other scene contains some awful physical humiliation - a headlong spill down a set of metal bleachers, or a solid kick in the goolies.

Occasionally, though, the film flirts with a leeringly transgressive impulse, taking the gender mix-up at face value and allowing Jessica's sex-starved mother to throw herself at her daughter, trapped in the body of Schneider, posing as their Mexican gardener; at times like this, the idea of Schneider making something like a Pasolini film rears its unlikely head. Includes the usual "making-of" features, notable for the unlikely spectacle of cast and crew insisting that Schneider "really nailed" the whole cheerleader thing.

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Murder in Greenwich
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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The true story of the murder of teenager Martha Moxley by a scion of the Kennedy family, finally brought to justice after twenty-five years, gets the TV movie treatment in this unfortunate film, produced by crime writer Dominick Dunne, and based on the book by Mark Fuhrman.

The role of former LA cop Fuhrman - infamous for his role in the O.J. Simpson trial - is spun here to act as vindication, with Fuhrman played by Christopher Meloni as a sort of better-socialized, family man Dirty Harry. Even more unsettling is the spectre of the murdered girl narrating her own story as a wry ghost. Murder in Greenwich is a strange piece of work - a murder mystery entirely lacking the mystery, but more concerned with some multifold set of agendas: the rehabilitation of Fuhrman, a vague indictment of the Kennedy cult, and an attack on the hypocrisy of the prosperous community of Greenwich. No special features.

©2003 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.