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Peter Weir (Witness) directs Robin Williams as a popular, freethinking English teacher in a strict boys' prep school who inspires his students to think for themselves. The major problem with this 1989 male weepie is Tom Schulman's script, which falters on several counts: the story is supposed to be taking place in 1959, but apart from a couple of rock songs there's not even an attempt to capture the period; the moral divisions set up between characters are childishly overdrawn; and, worst of all, the behavior shown by the boys and adults frequently reeks of falsity and contrivance, despite a generally able cast that includes Robert Sean Leonard, Ethan Hawke, Josh Charles, Gale Hansen, and Dylan Kussman. (To cite one instance out of many, what teenage boy of your acquaintance would invite all his buddies to surround him while he telephones the girl of his dreams?) Sometimes Weir's directorial craft makes one overlook some of the wobbles of this teetering vehicle, but at other times he makes things worse by stretching out some of the dramatic climaxes interminably. Williams is as good as ever, but as in Good Morning, Vietnam, the concerted effort to soften his rough edges doesn't really enhance his talent. 128 min.

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