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Lords of Discipline, The

Paramount // R // February 28, 2006
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted March 20, 2006 | E-mail the Author
Hollywood Mystery For The Ages #47: Why is it that David Keith never became a full-on, big-time movie star?

If you don't recognize the name, you'll probably recognize the face. He was Richard Gere's pal in "An Officer and a Gentleman," Drew Barrymore's dad in "Firestarter," Robert Duvall's son in "A Family Thing," Elvis Presley himself in "Heartbreak Hotel," and the cowboy in "The Indian In the Cupboard." His brightest moment came as the star of the short-lived, highly underrated TV series "High Incident." He's got the looks, the build, and the charisma of any big name superstar - yet, somehow, he never made it past the Dependable Character Actor/B Movie Lead stages. A Mystery For The Ages, indeed.

Shortly after starring in "An Officer and a Gentleman," Keith took the lead in another military cadet drama, "The Lords of Discipline." Keith plays Will, a senior at the Carolina Military Institute for the 1964-65 year; he's more into the having-fun-and-being-a-nice-guy thing than he is into the whole rigid-military-training-is-a-great-excuse-to-act-like-a-jerk thing. This is why Will's mentor (Robert Prosky) asks him to keep a watchful eye on Pearce (Mark Breland), the academy's first black cadet, who's seeing first-year hazing taken to dangerous extremes. It seems that there's a secret society, called The Ten, who aim to see Pearce not make it to the end of the school year.

The problem with "Discipline," adapted from the novel by Pat Conroy with a screenplay by Thomas Pope ("Hammett") and Lloyd Fonvielle ("The Bride"), is that this should be Pearce's story, but it is instead Will's. We get to see Will as an upstanding guy, not only trying to save Pearce but also working to rescue such clich├ęd side characters as the Fat Guy Who's Always Mocked And Who Can't Handle The Stress (is it a law that this character appear in every military training movie?); it is Will who uncovers the secret of The Ten, and it is Will who puts his future on the line.

But it is Pearce who gives us the most compelling scenes, brief though they may be. Consider a moment late in the film, where Pearce confides to Will the necessity for him to make it - if he doesn't make it, his failure will hang over the head of every black cadet to enroll after him. This is a touching, honest scene, heightened by a wonderful, restrained performance by Breland. Keith delivers a fine performance as well, but between the brave, barrier-breaking black kid and the aw-shucks white kid who helps, I'd rather watch the black kid, wouldn't you? That we instead follow Will's story reveals that this is a film that wants to be socially aware, but doesn't quite know how to go that extra step. (Imagine a movie about Jackie Robinson's rookie year - but with Eddie Stanky as the star of the show. That's "The Lords of Discipline" for you.)

There are enough workable bits throughout the film that keep us watching. Will and his roommates share some lighthearted bonding that lend the film a nice coming-of-age vibe. The give-and-take between Keith and Prosky is so tightly constructed and delivered that the actors get so much out of so little. The drama surrounding the school's strict rituals is usually engaging, a clever peek into how power and formality mixed with youth can create an honor in some but a grotesque cruelty in others.

Yet to get to such fine moments as these, we must wade through some sloppy melodrama (the whole Fat Kid subplot is the most overplayed), clunky characterizations (the "bad" seniors are generic in their villainy, with broad, shallow stereotypes filling up the edges), a hackneyed, clumsy final act (the surprise moments and big showdowns feel too gimmicky and are hardly earned), mediocre direction (helmer Franc Roddam treats the project quite flatly, coming off like a cheap TV movie of the week), and a hideous score (Howard Blake's heavily punctuated, overwrought music sounds like it was stolen from a bad episode of "Quincy"). And while it's neat to see such talent as Judge Reinhold and Bill Paxton (here credited, embarrassingly, as Wild Bill Paxton) early in their career, their characters are so underdeveloped that they're ultimately wasted.

The DVD

Video


Little effort has gone into cleaning up this film for DVD. The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) presentation is decent enough in spots to get by, but too often does the movie show its age. Later scenes, especially nighttime shots, reveal an excess of film grain.

Audio

The purist in me is happy that Paramount stuck with the original Dolby mono soundtrack, which is presentably clear. A French mono track is also offered. Optional English subtitles are available.

Extras

None. (This is part of Paramount's no-extras budget line.)

Final Thoughts

There are enough decent scenes and solid performances here to get us through, but unless you're a David Keith completist, there's no reason to do anything but Rent It. Despite the low price, the movie's not worth repeat viewings.
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