The Emperor's Club
Directed by Michael Hoffman
Written by Neil Tolkin, from the short story by Ethan Canin
Starring Kevin Kline


The Emperor's Club

Shouldn't that be "The Emperors' Club"? It wouldn't have made a better movie, but at least for a film about a classics teacher in an exclusive boys' prep school, it would have been grammatically correct. Oh well, Hollywood; whatcha gonna do?

Let's see: This film is set in St. Antigone's School for Boys. No, it's St. Antiochus's School - no, it's St. Bozo the Clown - no, it's St. Benedictus Academy for Boys, which sounds more like reform school than prep school, except that only rich kids go there. It's also set in the 1970s, so we are permitted the luxury of looking down at the goings on. What are they? Well, we have Kevin Kline as William Hundert, star of the faculty, who seems on the evidence of the film to do nothing in his classes but drill his students on names, dates, places and events of the Roman era. No time, at least in the film, for setting things in context, or examining implications, or even understanding just why things happened when and where they did. If this is a great teacher, please give me home schooling for my kids.

One day, in walks Sedgewick Bell, son of the senior senator from West Virginia, who immediately raises havoc among his classmates by flouting the rules, teasing the teacher, and generally making an ass of himself. But Hundert recognizes what you and I cannot: this boy is a diamond in the rough, and it will just take a little give on Hundert's part to unleash his potential and set him on the path of righteousness. The big event is Hundert's annual 'Mr. Julius Caesar' competition, in which the students compete to see who can memorize the greatest number of facts and figures and dates without going crazy. Hundert fudges Sedgewick's test scores so he will be a finalist, and then pays the price; Sedgewick cheats. Hundert spots it and keeps him from winning, but then we cut to twenty years later, when Sedgewick invites Hundert to conduct another 'Mr. Caesar' contest for his fellow alumni, at an estate his company now owns. And guess what? Yes, he cheats again. Only this time his innocent little son hears him brag about it.

That's pretty much the film; I don't believe that Kline will look at it as a high point of his career. I certainly don't. This kind of muddled hodge-podge, surely designed to show us that even the great ones have flaws, is done better every week on "South Park" and "The Simpsons." They're also much funnier. I advise you to save your admission money and watch the television shows instead.