Language: Polish with Hindi and English audio options
Cast: Piotr Witkowski, Antonina Jarnuszkiewicz, Marcin Bosak, Pascal Fischer
Director: Daniel Markowicz
You know within the first five minutes whether you’ll love or hate Lesson Plan, it is that sort of a film. The drama, titled Plan Lekcji in original Polish version, starts off unapologetically on a note of larger-than-life B-movie action, with lead star Piotr Witkowski — think of him as a Polish Jean-Claude Van Damme — bashing up a dozen baddies all by himself. He is nicknamed Jiu-Jitsu in the film to underline his retro action hero image and he quotes Bruce Lee to define his philosophy as a fighter. The opening fight sequence, you realise, was merely a hint at the pervading mood of machismo to unfold over a runtime of 100-odd minutes.
Director Daniel Markowicz and screenwriter Daniel Bernardi draw up a workable storyline that ensures the kicks and punches keep flowing regularly. In tandem with classic B-movie norms, a death that occurs early on will spur the hero’s course of action in the rest of the film. In most such cases, the motive of the hero’s actions is invariably either revenge or duty or both. Lesson Plan sticks to the formula.
Bernardi’s script sets the drama in a high school, with drug menace as focal point of the narrative, and uses as backdrop the tested coming-of-age template where an out-of-place teacher lands in a class full of unruly students. If that thematic backdrop reminds you of To Sir, With Love or Blackboard Jungle, the film readily forsakes the finer sensibility of such classics in order to fill the frames with an over-the-top stuntfest. (Give it to these guys — for what their film is worth, at least they are honest in their intent as B-movie makers).
Polish crime dramas are often typified by gritty realism and intense violence, though Lesson Plan avoids excessive doses of both. The film uses a pertinent issue — of the infiltration of drugs into high school campuses — to set up its plot, but sidesteps relevant conversation on the subject. The makers obviously kept in mind the film’s 16+ rating while fashioning the violence quotient. The treatment is aimed to set up a high school drama that caters to the teen audience. For that reason, although action star Witkowski goes all out on fight mode, the screenwriters have chosen not to give him the scope to engage in superfluous gore or bloodshed.
Witkowski plays Damian Nowicki, a classic tormented machoman. As the film opens, the mafia has coldly murdered Damian’s wife on discovering he is an undercover cop who infiltrated their ranks posing as a gangster. Damian’s response, which comprises the heavy-duty opening action fight, sees him finish off the mob boss and his cronies single-handedly but, following formula template, he is left a broken man and an alcoholic because he can’t save his wife.
That initial slice of action drama is meant to serve as an introductory character sketch of the hero, before drawing the audience into the film’s plot. A teacher friend requests Damian to look into drug menace rampant in the high school he works in. The crestfallen cop is initially in no mood to take up the case, but later has a change of heart following the friend’s death. For Damian, solving the case becomes a route to redemption.
The narrative then tries altering the mood of the film as Damian decides to enter the school as a history teacher. The reason is a convenient one: His late friends used to teach history and his death has opened up a vacancy for the post. Quiet conveniently, too, the school isn’t the most posh of institutions, so not many other applicants have applied for the position.
Damian gets the job, only to land amidst a bunch of uncooperative students. He will impress the good guys among them and, soon enough, Damian is spending more time teaching them jiu-jitsu tricks for self-defence than history. Bernardi’s writing sticks to every imaginable cliche that such a premise can bring in its wake, including the revelation of the real villain in the end, even as the story goes about with its primary intention of establishing Damian as the archetypal hero with a heart of gold and an iron fist.
The cracks in writing become evident early on and you realise the film’s unimaginative script is its biggest weakness. The chain of events that occur to the hero is drawn up mechanically. There is loss, despair, anger, heartbreak, romance and revenge — all neatly arranged to keep the runtime packed. There are also the moments written into the screenplay meant to play on the bond that a teacher may form with his students. Yet, you don’t find an emotional connect with the hero, even as he goes through the sentimental gamut. The narrative is not interested in fleshing out most other characters, too. The students comprise a convenient support system for the hero, merely there to provide Damian’s story the necessary props at the right moment. The script throws in a love angle for Damian, too. Once he takes up his job as history teacher, there is the mandatory female colleague, Agata (Antonina Jarnuszkiewicz), with whom the sparks will fly. The equation between Damian and Agata lacks chemistry and seem unnecessary, although the script tries to unconvincingly set up melodrama through a sub-plot of misunderstanding between the two at one point. Director Markowicz believes in set pieces, but doesn’t seem sure of how to execute them.
The focus for Piotr Witkowski seems more on delivering as an action hero than an actor. He fights well, but the film’s action choreography team has surprisingly given him tacky set pieces in most of his fight scenes, and a couple of sequences actually look funny. With underdeveloped characters playing out generic cliches, none of the cast understandably comes up with a performance worth mention.
B-movies banking on action have traditionally found a huge fan base the world over, even gone on to become cult fare. But the genre, to succeed, needs a memorable action hero and those unforgettable moments. Lesson Plan has neither.
Rating: * * (two stars out of five)
Vinayak Chakravorty is a critic, columnist and film journalist based in Delhi-NCR.
Read all the Latest News, Trending News, Cricket News, Bollywood News, India News and Entertainment News here. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Leave a Reply