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[whitespace] John S. Davies
Teaching to the Test: As substitute teacher Mr. Walmsley, John S. Davies gives some high school students extra credit for suffering.

Back to School

A crazed sub practices painful pedagogy in 'Detention'

By Richard von Busack

ANOTHER FILM in that negative zone between serious protest and satirical exploitation, Detention: Very Special Ed is too frivolous to be one and not driven with nearly enough sex and violence to be the other. It is one of those hard-to-place pictures that litter the independent-movie highway like roadkill on an interstate. This specimen was filmed in Texas by Andy Anderson, a college professor--and when a teacher directs a movie, it's no surprise to find it didactic.

The thing is, Anderson isn't addressing a unique subject. Nearly every other year sees the release of a film about a decrepit high school full of student criminal fiends and a shy substitute teacher driven to clean things up (The Substitute and The Substitute 2: School's Out, for example--both parodied by Jon Lovitz in High School High). As Mr. Walmsley, the mysterious substitute teacher, John S. Davies is more self-erasing than self-effacing; he doesn't seem to have enough personality to harbor a masterful revenge plot simmering inside of him. When he finally turns the tables on the students, stripping and imprisoning them and torturing them with electroshock, it never seems either likely or very funny.

There's a repellent, fascist streak in this film, which suggests that only pain can make some students learn. When summing up the various forces that have left many of the nation's high schools deprived, Anderson whips the usual suspects: the lawyers, the parents, the pressure groups, the cowardly school administrators. Of course, he doesn't mention the taxpayers. The public likes to bemoan the plight of the public schools, but they aren't about to pony up the money necessary to correct the situation. Detention: Very Special Ed is not very atmospheric for insider work, and whenever I saw Walmsley using a remote-control device to electrocute a student, I wished I had a similar clicker to goose this slowpoke movie.

Detention: Very Special Ed (Unrated: 87 min.), directed by Andy Anderson and starring John S. Davies, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the September 6-12, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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