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Lean on Me (April 16/01)

Lean on Me is based on the true story of Joe Clark, a man singularly responsible for turning a rough high school (and boy is it rough - in the first five minutes, we see a girl's clothes ripped off in plain sight of everyone and a teacher's head bashed in by a student) into a nice, clean place of learning. But his methods aren't exactly orthodox...

Morgan Freeman stars as Clark and he spends most of the movie yelling at people. Most scenes feature Freeman either berating students or teachers, usually with a bull horn in hand. If there's anyone who can pull off non-stop shouting, it's Freeman. I particularly enjoyed one sequence that has Clark screaming at a kid to jump off the roof of the high school, because if he keeps on doing drugs, he'll be dead soon anyway and at least this way is quick and painless. If that's not motivation, I don't know what is.

There's not really much of a story to speak of. Freeman shows up and begins cleaning up the school. That's about it. Much of the film sees Freeman encountering a problem, solving it, and then moving on to the next problem. This is pretty intriguing, up to a point. About halfway through, it became pretty clear that no discernable plot was going to be introduced, which essentially leaves the movie hinging on Freeman's performance. And luckily he is (as always) outstanding, 'cause this could have been a mightily boring movie.

Lean on Me has aged incredibly poorly, though. Filmed in the early '90s and looking every bit as cheesy as an old episode of Beverly Hills 90210, the film is so obviously a part of it's time it's hard to view it critically without thinking about how silly that period was. There's even a montage set to a really bad early '90s pop song, and the edits are in time with the beat!

This is certainly not a bad film, though. Freeman goes for the gusto and pulls it off, but the stylistic choices leave something to be desired. In the end, the whole thing is worth watching if only for Freeman (and maybe for an early appearance by Ethan "Neelix" Phillips as a smarmy lawyer).

out of

© David Nusair