At one point in the Polish film, Lesson Plan, the protagonist Damian (Piotr Witkowski) is asked, “Do you have any other talent except beating people up?” While it might be a reductive summary of Damian and his exploits, it pretty much encapsulates the hollow hyper-masculine tone of the film.
The 100-minute production begins with a fight as an unarmed Damian takes on a group of gun-wielding henchmen. A neatly orchestrated hand-to-hand combat sequence later, an entire drug ring is brought down. In an action-template film such as this, the protagonist often loses a loved one early on, in this case, his wife, an incident that goes on to determine his course of action––Damian becomes a raging alcoholic.
What is unconvincing about this story, however, is not just the larger-than-life action sequences, but also the way the story progresses. The transitions are patchy, whether it is the setting or the plot. Damian transforms from an alcoholic to a prim and proper history teacher in a matter of few days.
The makers do not seem to feel the need to give an explanation; the link is missing here, as it is when the backdrop moves from a violent action scene into the world of a Polish high school. Lazy writing means that there’s no smooth segue into these new angles.
To its credit, the film does have a potentially intriguing subject––drug menace infiltrating an educational institution––at its centre, but it somehow manages to steer clear of any sound discussion on the topic. Replete with clichés, Damian’s history teacher is unoriginal in a way that it is a little bit of all the inspirational teachers that we have seen onscreen over the years.
A couple of laughable twists about the antagonists are straight out of a Scooby Doo episode, and the loose plot takes away any scope for thrill or mystery, although there is a fun detour where Damian pulls a Miyagi (from the Karate Kid franchise) on a group of students who want to resist the drug peddlers in their school. While all this is reasonable fun, the narrative fails to have an impact.
The lack of investment in character arcs, despite dark themes like sexual harassment and drug overdose, is woeful.
Lesson Plan’s agenda is clear. Write a feeble story about a charming protagonist who’s good at action set-pieces. What the makers, however, have forgotten is that the novelty in this genre is slowly wearing off, and as much as we love a well-performed stunt, the basics of narrative and emotional impact cannot be ignored.