*½/**** Image B- Sound B+ Extras B-
starring Kevin Kline, Emile Hirsch, Embeth Davidtz, Rob Morrow
screenplay by Neil Tolkin, based on the short story "The Palace Thief" by Ethan Canin
directed by Michael Hoffman
by Walter Chaw Saccharine, derivative, and overlong, Michael Hoffman's often-painful The Emperor's Club is remarkable only for the extremes to which it goes to avoid the clichéd ending--and the sad karmic (and ironic, given the film's carpe diem, hakuna matata catchphrase) completeness with which it fails to do so. Set in the Sixties at an exclusive all-boys prep school, The Emperor's Club is immediately recognizable as another iteration of Dead Poets Society, even more so when one realizes that the film features the same quartet of student types (the troubled one, the trickster, the bookish one, the gregarious one--also the same breakdown you'll find in Stand By Me, come to think of it) and the same crinkly-eyed inspirational professor who finds a lesson for young lives in the heartening words of dead versifiers. That The Emperor's Club spends its second half flashed-forward twenty-five years as said crinkly-eyed scholar discovers that his truest legacy is the success of his students reduces it to a variation of the miserable Mr. Holland's Opus.