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Review by Alex Grant - hoary old chesnut of a movie

Kevin Kline, Emile Hirsch and Embeth Davidtz.
Directed by Michael Hoffman.
Written by Neil Tolkin.
Produced by Andrew Karsch and
Marc Abraham.
A Universal release. Drama.
Rated PG-13 for some sexual content.
Running time: 109 min.

Hyper-square, innocuous and anodyne director Michael Hoffmanıs trite moral fable "The Emperorıs Club" set at an exclusive US private boysı school is resolute in its declaration that it is bad to cheat the system. Yet we are living aghast in an era of corporate and political malfeasance where everyone lacking in scruple ­ from the US President on down ­ openly cheats the system, and with impunity. Corruption is a badge of honour. This astounding revelation (that cheaters are not good people) is the centerpiece of a maudlin, bathetic two-hour Hollywood movie devoted to praising confirmed bachelor and OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder) sufferer ŒWilliam Hundertı (Kevin Kline, both obsequious and odious), a classics teacher at pristine, prissy St. Benedictıs. And a full-bore pedant.

From 1976 through to 2001, Hundert constantly sports both a belt and suspenders (caution is his forte) and constantly fidgets with his necktie (see Freud, Sigmund for his analysis of cravat fondling as a psycho-sexual repression indicator). It is small wonder that I initially shrank away from the glutinous TV ads for this hackneyed lecture on ethics, character, fate and history. I was a classics scholar at an exclusive British grammar / "public" (private) school ­ Dame Allanıs Boys School (DAS) also known as the "Dumb Apes" school where at age eleven I was surrounded by simian simpletons ­ the schoolmasters themselves! DAS was a venerable 17th century seat of learning concerned with nourishing me with a heaped helping of "moral fibre", which, like todayıs high fibre diet, was said to cleanse the system of impurities ­ thoughts about sex and other adolescent distractions.
I was often beaten on the buttocks for (a) inadvertently striking the headmaster in the quadrangle (of all places) with a large snowball (b) pinioning his academic gown to the turf with a badly aimed javelin ­ unfortunately he was wearing it at the time. This "accident" occurred on sports day; my aim was off. (c), I carved deeply and deliberately an infamous slur about my Greek tutor into a valuable oak table. The slur was in the Greek tongue (-in-cheek) and I was by no means a true rebel like William Hundertıs nemesis "Sedgewick Hiram Bell" (Emil Hirsch) in "Club", the son of a populist US senator. This preening, pouting little film brought back vivid memories of the beastly bores who tried unsuccessfully to "civilize" me at DAS ­ characters grotesque enough to have sprung from the pages of Evelyn Waughıs classic public school satire "Decline and Fall".
Crusty Mr. Curran (bald, beak-nosed and bitter about being a chrome-dome), Mr. Piper (a pipsqueak midget martinet), Mr Bulmer (the roseate, bandy-legged, bantam-rooster rugby fanatic), Mr. Rhees (the acne scarred, very hirsute and ursine Welshman and gasbag) ­ this creepy gang of curmudgeons were useless except to teach me some really BIG words!

In "Club" the professor-pupil conflict centers upon a mind-boggling annual contest ­ who will be crowned (with a laurel wreath) "Mr. Julius Caesar"? To achieve this eminence the boys of St. Benedict must absorb, by rote, an endless litany of fatuous and tedious facts about antiquity (tell me, Iıve been there). i.e. "List all of the Roman Emperors in chronological order, please, sir." Give me a break; why not ask "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" (thirty if sober, six if drunk, sir.")
I thought (wrongly) that all of us had said "Goodbye!" to "Mr. Chips" ages ago. I guess the myth of the strict but loveable curmudgeon dies hard, eh? He shouldıve cashed in his chips aeons ago.
The "Club" beats us over the head with this hoary old chestnut.

© Alex Grant November 22nd 2002

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