A history teacher attempts to impart moral rectitude through Roman and Greek example, until a young tearaway threatens to bring the forum crashing down. Like a bearded Robin Williams, it's Dead Philosophers Society.
The great Sam Goldwyn once said, "What we need now is some new clichés." If only the makers of The Emperor's Club had taken that to heart instead of churning out the same old ones.
Set in the early 1970s, the film finds Kevin Kline as history professor William Hundert, deputy head of the exclusive St. Benedict's School For Boys and the man charged with shaping young men's futures through the teachings of the past. Into the classroom swaggers Sedgewick Bell (Emile Hirsch), set to disrupt the status quo and challenge Hundert's world.
Despite solid acting from all involved, The Emperor's Club fails to engage on almost any front. It trots out Roman fortune-cookie wisdom as though it had an expiry date - "Follow the path", "The end depends upon the beginning" etc., etc. - and leaves Kline looking like a toga-clad Yoda.
The film's rigidly formal construction is perhaps excusable as an exercise in form and content synergy, but it only just manages to stay on the right side of mawkish sentimentality.
Fine acting talent wasted on a "why bother?" story.