Nickelodeon // 2008 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // February 25th, 2009
From joke to jock.
For a Nickelodeon original movie, Gym Teacher is surprisingly palatable. Best of all, it did not make me vomit uncontrollably upon watching. This is an impressive feat, if only because Gym Teacher features Law & Order: SVU's Detective Elliot Stabler running wild in tight spandex shorts. You heard me.
Hamm Lake Middle School may have the best gym teacher in the country: Dave Stewie (Christopher Meloni, Law & Order: SVU), a failed Olympic athlete turned teacher. His disastrous gold medal vault attempt is the stuff of sports blooper reel legends, and Stewie still harbors a broken heart over the loss of his dream. Still, as gym teachers go, he's one of the best; enthusiastic, supportive, and beloved by his students. But when his principal (Amy Sedaris, Strangers With Candy) encourages him to apply for a national Gym Class Fitness Competition, he realizes he may have another chance for glory.
That is, until the arrival of Roland (Nathan Kress, iCarly). A poindexter of the highest caliber, Stewie's dreams of championship gold are immediately dashed, as Roland is simply too nerdy and uncoordinated to excel at gym. But when Stewie falls for Roland's mother, the new English teacher at Hamm Lake, he realizes that his dreams lay with Roland's dreams of being a normal student -- success at gym class!
Made-for-television children's films are tricky things to review for adults. These are normally on par to Guantanamo Bay-style agony for adults forced to observe upon the horrors they contain, but Gym Teacher, for all its predictability and squishiness, ain't so bad. Imagine my surprise to find a film to be a cut above the standard disposable made-for-television movies pumped out for youth entertainment.
I suspect this is largely in part due to its director, Paul Dinello (Strangers with Candy: The Complete Series), who, along with his co-star in crime Amy Sedaris, brings a certain perverse and awkward humor to the affair. Make no mistake, this is G-rated comedy through and through, wholesome as apple pie. Still, there are small nudges of dissenting amusement with bizarre awkward sequences that feel more Comedy Central than Nickelodeon. Jokes that fall spectacularly and awkwardly flat, personal embarrassment, slapstick comedy -- all subtle elements to be sure, but their inclusion makes all the difference. The comedy is just a bit more refined than your standard children's programming. The jokes are clean, but those with keen eyes will pick up the nuances, enough to actually make Gym Teacher fun to watch for adults. It's almost like a G-rated trip to Flatpoint High School.
Part of the fun in this feature is seeing actors bust out of their normal routine and start terrorizing audiences. While Amy Sedaris plays virtually the same role here as in Strangers with Candy, Chris Meloni is on another planet. He plays the role like his role on SVU, except on more cocaine; his already buggy eyes threaten to leap out of his skull as he flails and flies about in full gym teacher mode, socks pulled up the ankles, whistle around his neck flailing wildly. His comedic range is surprisingly animated, and he was the biggest surprise watching Gym Teacher. I expected human feces to come shooting out of my DVD player when putting this film in; instead I got a surprising amount of genuine slapstick and pleasantly awkward romantic comedy. If his day job ever falls through, he'd do surprisingly well in comedy. I kid you not.
The plot is childish and predictable, but what could you possibly be expecting from this film? It is exactly as one expects: hokey, improbable, and foolish, but to its credit, the script does not make my head leak fluid. Whatever rough moments the script have, the humor and zany performances of its cast carry the film through to the finish line with innocence and heart. It has a predictable ending with little twists, but still tells its story with enough skill to be successful in this regard. Even the cold, black, charred recess in my chest (where humans normally hold their heart) warms ever-so-slightly at the uplifting tale of a gym teacher reclaiming his lost Olympic glory, and a spaz learning how to be a jock. You even get some half-amusing cameo appearances by Chris Kattan and David Alan Grier, the latter as a vindictive rival gym teacher for a private school that makes Hamm Lake's life miserable. What a Bitterman!
Gym Class is cute, funny, and heartwarming, and has good moral values. At the end of the day, it's hard to knock it. If I had a kid, and I decided to unchain him from his basement dungeon, I'd happily let him watch Gym Teacher. Of course, that's conjecture on my part, because I don't have a kid, and I probably wouldn't let him out under any circumstances, the scoundrel.
The presentation on DVD is strongly average; on par with a moderate budget made-for-television film. Colors are well-balanced, but black levels are washed out. Detail is average, a bit soft for modern standards, but the picture and image quality is clean and free from defect. A 5.1 surround presentation fills the audio spectrum well enough, with a mostly central dialogue channel and minimal use of rear channels. Bass response is minimal. All in all, a solid technical presentation -- nothing spectacular, but we've seen worse 'round these parts.
Extras are skimpy for a single disc release. We get a 4-minute behind-the-scenes featurette, a 2-minute interview compilation with cast, 3 minutes of bloopers, some deleted scenes, a Bruce Jenner's Failed Summer Games video, and a music video. All told, it's barely 20 minutes of supplements, which is thin.
In fairness, as much as I might find mild similarities to Strangers with Candy, Gym Class is far too G-rated for such shenanigans, which is a shame. Had they cranked the awkward comedy dial just a bit farther to the left, Gym Teacher might actually be recommendable for older audiences. It tantalizes me to imagine what could have been -- or else I just get a kick out of mentally corrupting made-for-television Nickelodeon films. You know, either or.
Gym Teacher won't be winning any Teacher of the Year awards, but it's an enjoyable, goofy, and low-maintenance family film featuring some manic performances and familiar comedic faces. Definitely worth a rental for the young ones.
Christopher Meloni saves this one from detention. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Video
* Official Site