It’s Stand and Deliver in Sydney. Sort of. Christina Ricci (The Smurfs 2) is Dino Chalmers, an American schoolteacher abroad — she moved to Australia to be with her fiancé — now all fired up to inspire the poor inner-city Aboriginal teens and other “kids at risk” whom even their other teachers and school admins hold out no hope for. The grownups all laugh at Dino, including her husband-to-be (Daniel Henshall: Snowtown), when she insists her class will perform Hamlet — in public at a school showcase, no less — because everyone knows you can’t teach black fellas Shakespeare. The overt, casual racism of the white Aussie characters here almost seems like a cartoonish caricature, though I fear it is all too accurate. (The film is set during race riots that occurred in Sydney in 2004.) Other aspects of the tale are familiar: We can guess that Dino’s story is going to lead her away from the clearly wrong-for-her boyfriend and in some other direction. And of course there’s one special student, Liam Wood (Hunter Page-Lochard: The Sapphires), who takes to the play in ways that may change his life. Writer-director Sarah Spillane may be overly earnest and obvious with her tale, particularly in the on-the-nose connection between the play and Liam’s life outside school, which sees his older brother (Mark Coles Smith) gung-ho to take violent revenge on the mobster who killed their uncle and eager to ensure that Liam is in on the job. But appealing performances, a few tweaks to the clichés of the genre, and a sincere desire to counter outrageous racism go a long way toward making this worth a look.
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