December 02, 2002 12:00 PM

Kevin Kline, Emile Hirsch, Embeth Davidtz, Rob Morrow

It’s a formula as old as Mr. Chips and as sentimental as Dead Poets Society: Caring, eccentric teacher at a prep school inspires problematic, underachieving student (or students). And yet it works every time, including here, especially for adolescent viewers seeing the story for the first time.

In The Emperor’s Club, Kline is his usual likable self playing a stuffy classics instructor at a prestigious New England private high school who firmly believes, “A man’s character is his fate.” He gets to find out if that’s true when, two decades later, he meets up again with a charismatic student (Hirsch) he once tried to help, but who betrayed and disappointed him.

Based on a short story by Ethan Canin and directed with a light touch by Michael Hoffman (One Fine Day), Club is the kind of movie of which Hollywood doesn’t make enough: sincere, with a point and perfect for family viewing. (PG-13)

BOTTOM LINE: A club worth joining

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