Louanne Johnson (Pfeiffer) is no ordinary teacher. An ex-Marine, she is determined to whip her class in to shape. However, that is no easy task, with a group of disadvantaged and alienated teens.
Boasting Michelle Pfeiffer in a plum starring role, retreading territory successfully ploughed by Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society and, more recently, Ian Hart in Clockwork Mice, and a Stateside hit status to to the tune of $81 million, Dangerous Minds arrives here on a swathe of optimism. Yet, as they say, you never can tell - for this is also something of a dog.
With the high point, Coolio's moody theme song Gangsta's Paradise, quickly dispensed with, Pfeiffer portrays LouAnne Johnson, a Marine turned teacher assigned to the kind of urban, inner-city class that no self-respecting school ma'am would survive for too long. Except LouAnne is different, and armed with a bag full of bribes (choc bars, free trips to theme parks, etc.), a latent interest in poetry (well, Bob Dylan) and an understanding of what makes teens (especially delinquent disadvantaged teens) tick she turns her band of beyond-hope remedials into overnight success stories.
Although based on a true story, this is something all too easy to forget while watching the movie, which proves to be not only bad, but an entirely by-numbers rendition of classroom conflict, with every plot development achingly predictable. The troublesome first day, the pupil who's really a genius but is held back by her less enthusiastic class chums, the tough nut rebel destined for a sticky fate before the closing credits, the unilateral bonding in times of crisis - they're all here. And any true drama quickly gives way to unintentional laughs.
Pfeiffer comes across not so much as an inspirational teacher, but rather as some kind of literate blonde superbeing able to transcend cultural barriers thanks to her fluency in at least two European dialects and her skill at karate. It's her relaxed, comforting presence which brightens things considerably, while the performances of many of her teenage supporting cast show distinct promise. What a pity they're given such a bland soap opera of a movie as a basis on which to flex their talents.
Pfeiffer's performance supersedes any of the material, but the rest of the film is a seething mass of clichés despite the 'true story' origins.