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‘School Ties’ (PG-13)

By Jeanne Cooper
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 18, 1992

David Greene, the young hero of "School Ties," appears to be perfect. He's a good student, an exceptional athlete, a loyal friend, a dutiful son, an affectionate brother and a chivalrous boyfriend who's not bad in the kissing and dancing departments, either. His problem -- at least according to the mid-'50s upper-crust society -- is he's Jewish. The movie's problem is he's too perfect.

Brendan Fraser, last seen as a thawed troglodyte in "Encino Man," plays David, another outsider looking in. When an Ivy League prep school needs a ringer for its football team, he's given a scholarship and told to keep quiet about his background. Not only is he Jewish, he's from low-class Scranton, Pa. Both identities are worlds unknown to the pampered preppies he meets as a senior at St. Matthew's Academy.

David arrives inauspiciously after acquiring a shiner from a Scranton tough who threw slurs as well as punches. His new roommates are in awe, asking in disbelief if he's been in a fistfight. When David says yes, their eyes widen. "Like a 'rumble'?" one asks. "Yeah, a 'rumble,' " David says, suppressing a laugh.

But he's not as amused when antisemitic remarks casually pass their lips. Rather than expose himself to their barbs, David hides his Star of David necklace and tries to fit in.

It's not easy when "Chariots of Fire" conflicts begin to confront him. David has to skip Rosh Hashana services to play a football game. After chiding him for breaking a tradition, a disapproving headmaster (Peter Donat) tells David, "You people are very . . . determined." The handsome quarterback displaces popular heir-apparent Dillon (Matt Damon) not only on the team but also in the affections of blueblood shiksa Sally (a demure Amy Locane).

Of course, David's truth will out -- but not until after a "Dead Poets Society" subplot involving a tyrannical French teacher (Zeljko Ivanek). Ah, the cruelty of the immersion method. The school's honor system is also tested late in the movie, following a series of now-open antisemitic attacks on David.

Director Robert Mandel makes sure we bond with David on his lonely trip, sharing his wonderment at the lushness of the privileged life and his bewilderment at its arcane ways. For his part, Fraser gives David a brooding dignity and a clear-eyed righteousness that gradually toughens as he wisens.

But there's a dramatic imbalance to Dick Wolf and Darryl Ponicsan's screenplay. By making David a saint, they make his bigoted tormentors ultra-despicable. It's so easy to identify who's in the right that it's hard to remember this wrong may exist in us.

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