Warner Bros./Warner Home Video .
R4 . COLOR . 104 mins .
PG . PAL
When it comes to formulas, Hollywood has more of them than Australia has flies. And one of the most well-worn, yet still regularly wheeled out, examples of this penchant for predictability is the old underdog tale. Ladies and gentlemen, we present 1989’s Lean On Me.
Paterson New Jersey’s Eastside High is a once proud school which has, in recent years, found itself somewhat down the burbler (even if it was clogged up with discarded chewy). With assaults, guns, drugs, graffiti and few, if any, examples of studiousness amongst the ranks, it’s been labelled a “cauldron of violence”, and unless things change – not least of all the woeful test scores – it’s set to be taken over by the state. The school board are desperate, and as such approach the one man they believe may just be nuts enough to take on the gig. This man is Joe Clark (Morgan Freeman).
Listen to me when I'm shouting at you!
He soon makes his presence felt, coming into Eastside equal parts evangelist, R. Lee Ermey and Terminator, putting more noses out of joint than a cross-eyed rhinoplasty surgeon. Bullhorn permanently in tow, Principal Clark quickly expurgates the worst miscreants, subsequently setting about moulding the remaining students into a big ball of scholastic and self pride, with his own brand of tough love with the odd little teensy-weensy bit of squishiness squeezed in here and there. Beyond the challenges faced with the school and achieving passing test grades, he also has to deal with a bull-headed parent who’s taken an instant dislike to him, working behind the scenes to remove what she sees as a grave threat to the student body. They, however, have other ideas. Gee, what could end up happening?
"They say one bad apple spoils the bunch. Well, what about 300?"
Yes, we’ve seen it all before, however Lean On Me has one skyscraper-sized ace up its sleeve – Morgan Freeman in full-on “don’t give me no lip” mode. It’s his stoic, stalwart performance which captivates, allowing the flick to rise above so many other outings of a similar ilk which just don’t have the casting to back them up. Sure, it’s more predictable than weight-gain at Christmas and schmalzier than a room full of Anne Geddes baby calendars, but with Morgan on the rampage who gives a damn?
The best way to describe Lean On Me visually is that it looks like an ‘80s film, which isn’t really surprising as it is. Despite being a budget release, however, the transfer afforded the film is a decent enough one, delivered at 1.78:1 (close to the original ratio of 1.85:1) and given anamorphic enhancement to boot. There’s nothing much in hand to imbrue things, save for the odd small speckles here and there. Black levels are good, while colour does tend towards that slightly washed-out look most will be familiar with. Detail’s pretty good without being sharp enough to do any major damage, and no layer change pops up to provide unwanted interjections into any of Mr. Freeman’s soliloquies.
Boring old Dolby Digital stereo is the order of the day here, which pretty much echoes what the film was made in. Dialogue is at most times clear, although there are rare occasions where the general hubbub going on tends to drown the dialogue out somewhat – plus there’s the odd full-on accent which can prove a little testing. It’s all well synched, and kept company by a rather cheesy Bill Conti score and the odd pop tune such as Welcome to the Jungle by Guns ‘n’ Roses, along with more versions of Lean On Me than you could poke a Napster at.
In keeping with Warner’s apparent “less is more” philosophy when it comes to their budget range, any extras which may have made their way to this release seem to have been stuck in detention.
If the classic, cliche-ridden, inspirational rags to riches genre does the right thang for your particular buttons, then Lean On Me is well worth a look-see, delivering decent enough video and audio for a price nobody but those with diamond-producing sphincters could be bothered haggling over.
Jack & Sarah "Proving that simplicity is no obstruction to brilliance, this is an ultimately sweet (but not sickeningly so) tale that gives all those bigger English films out there a more than respectable run for their money... "