Artisan // 1997 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // November 13th, 2003
There's only one way to make the grade...
Every school seems to have a teacher like Mr. Griffin: demanding, tough, able to inspire both admiration and abhorrence. And every school definitely has a Mark Kinney: campus showboater, popular with jocks and nerds, the kind of student who skates through lessons and life on his looks and abilities. When these two worlds collide, the pyrotechnics are potentially deadly. As a senior, Mark is hoping to get it all: the good-looking girl, the student body presidency, and a free ride to an Ivy League school. But still there's Mr. Griffin, standing in his way. Being the fun loving yet devious fool that he is, Mark formulates a perfect prank. He wants to kidnap Mr. Griffin and videotape him in a state of humiliation and supplication. Then he will show it around school so Mr. G can get his comeuppance. Mark gathers around his clique of friends and works out the particulars of his plot. He even gets his best friend Dave to ask out Griffin's prized student, a wallflower named Susan, so she too can become part of the ruse. Things begin badly as the planned getaway car is late. Then Mr. Griffin, bound and disoriented, refuses to deal. Suddenly, he starts pleading...for his "pills." Seems Mr. Griffin has a heart condition. Panic ensues and the gang leaves their victim alone. When they return later, he is dead. Now the real fear begins. As they bury the body, they make a pact to protect each other and never speak of it. Mark swears he will handle it all, but stress soon takes over and the issue becomes one of trust. Will someone in the group break down and confess to his or her involvement in Killing Mr. Griffin?
If the above plot description appears to have holes in it the size of Ralphie Mae's underpants, you've just started to get the idea of what is so horribly wrong with Killing Mr. Griffin. This Lifetime style movie keeps reminding the viewer of the far better, more disturbing River's Edge, except there's no Crispin Glover genius or demented Dennis Hopper with a blow-up doll to be found. Basically the story of how one spoiled rich over-privileged brat learns to deal with his attitude problems (i.e. by committing several capital offenses), you can see simple overriding themes striving for deeper meaning. Extrapolating the dull drama out over and above its obvious points, one could argue that this is really a cautionary tale about abandoning learning and discipline for peer pressure and social acceptance. But the incredibly heavy handed speeches given by Mr. Griffin and the almost casual attitude the school community has toward Mark's many malfeasant acts seems to undercut this philosophy at every avenue. Killing Mr. Griffin can't make its teaching point and has to settle into chiller thriller territory to hopefully save its sorry ass. But it can't do that either. No amount of back story (Mark's home life is one long series of pep talks from his incredibly overbearing and hyper-overachieving parents) or attempted humanizing (the murdering minions are all shown in various stages of multiple nervous breakdown) can detract from the fact that we are witnessing amoral young adults committing awful felonious atrocities. Even if Mr. Griffin was a meglomaniacal menace, no one deserves to be the butt of a joke as perverse and ill considered as Mark's. Revenge is a dish best served cold, not in cardiac arrest while bound like a rodeo steer.
So the issue becomes whom are we supposed to sympathize with here. Everyone's motives are as twisted as their rationales for not getting help (too late) or going to the police (they'd get in trouble). Even when they show small amounts of conscience, they temper it with more pleas for interpersonal empathy. These matriculating criminals feel so sorry for themselves, constantly wondering why they are being persecuted for their own extreme stupidity, that you keep waiting for the hand of God to come sweeping out of the sky to pimp-slap each and every one of them into next week. So, with a story so illogical it makes Jessica Simpson seem bright and characters we wish would decompose before our eyes, Killing Mr. Griffin doesn't have a lot going for it. There are a couple of decent performances here. Although she occasionally hits some false notes and looks like she's waiting for the callback on the Heidi Fleiss biopic (this kid is a dead ringer for the horse faced madam), Amy Jo Johnson does a good job of acting mortified and devastated by the results of her involvement in the joke gone jaundiced. And as her best friend, the little blond pug dog Michelle Williams is like a bimbo version of Ghost World's Enid, caustic but comely. All the other cast members, from Mario "Soon to be Greg Louganis" Lopez to Scott "You're How Old?" Bairstow, are interchangeable. Even Jay Thomas as the title corpse can be seen pushing it from time to time, trying to work up the fire and brimstone necessary to fill Mr. G with the evil spirit that the scripting obviously lacked. And don't let the tagline "from the author of 'I Know What You Did Last Summer'" fool you. Lois Duncan, who made a career out of teaching high school kids the heebie jeebies, had very little to say about this adaptation. But unlike other offerings in her unctuous oeuvre, she actually likes this one. Figures that a faux fright flick about the in-crowd execution of a tough teacher would be the one to impress her. Killing Mr. Griffin gives its narrative away once you've read the title. Everything else is just moldy icing on a bland, boring cake.
There is some good news here, however. After several DVD's worth of empty promises, Artisan finally steps up to the retail railing and offers a bonus feature on this disc, one not found on any of the other empty offerings they've released recently. It allows one to see the movie in a whole new way, to experience it with a different set of senses. It provides a very literal look at the film, helping to visualizing the thoughts and words of characters and even sound effects. That's right, you lucky consumers of this commercial crap: if you run out today and plunk down a paycheck for this digital dynamo, the extra special fuzzy wonderful bonus feature you will enjoy is...get ready...English subtitles!!! WOO HOO!!! Happy days are here again. That's right, sit right down, get some corn, fire up the player, and read along with the rich retards as they plot, scheme, and stress out over spending time in the big house. A transcript is the only extra Artisan gives you for this title. All sarcasm aside, subtitles are about the best thing on this disc. The 1.33:1 full screen image is uneven, offering occasional fog and compression where it should not exist. The Dolby Digital Stereo is also ordinary, only audible during the paltry pop songs offered in a couple of sequences. Otherwise, unless the experience of proving your literacy stirs your instant granola, you won't find any extra, or for that fact actual pleasure in Killing Mr. Griffin.
The dead instructor gets the better end of this badly crafted bargain. He gets to spend an afterlife in karmic bliss. We unfortunately are forced to spend way too much time with the whiny losers left behind. Now where's the lesson in that?
Review content copyright © 2003 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13