Showtime’s hard-hitting high school drama is difficult to dismiss as a mere cable pic, given its unique history as a 1999 play that has been downloaded free from the Internet and performed thousands of times by students across the U.S. Unique history means it will seek and probably get a life beyond broadcast, as well as becoming a staple of school room watching and discussion.
Mr. “Ed” himself, Tom Cavanagh, toplines as Val Duncan, a teacher so earnest he’s willing to put his ego aside when needy kids put him down. His worst-case scenario is Trevor (an excellent and unshowy Ben Foster), a senior shunned by everyone since he threatened to blow up the school the previous year.
The jocks pick on him relentlessly, which is why he got huffy in the first place, and this semester he’s even skipping the one place where his talent shines: drama. That resolve is tested when Mr. Duncan downloads said play and suggests that Trev take the lead. The boy balks, at least until he realizes that Jenny (Jane McGregor), the school’s prettiest and newest girl — so far unaligned with any social group — will be in it, too.
Unfortunately, our antihero also receives some attention from the Trogs, violent anarchists who want to follow through on his threat of violence. Lack of understanding by parents and administrators, led by Gillian Barber — cop-show wooden as the school’s tough principal — only fuels the fire, as does community resistance when people figure out what kind of play is being performed on school grounds.
Lacking in humor, Vancouver-shot pic’s pale attempt at a running gag has all authority figures mis-stating play’s name. Subplots are equally thin, as in Val’s rather vaguely romantic hook-up with a fellow teacher played by “West Wing”er Janel Moloney, who quickly disappears from the proceedings. Thesping is mostly convincing, but a sense of artificiality is reinforced by too much ADR work, and the vid lensing — appropriate to mixed-media content which also includes the kids’ homemade movies — looks a bit garish when tape is projected on a bigscreen. Let’s just say that you’ll never notice “Ed” wearing this much lipstick.
“Bang, Bang” manages to survive its rather melodramatic, which-way-will-he-turn ending, as well as some thinly imagined scenes from the play. (The original, only 40 minutes long and lightly excerpted here by its writer, was inspired by a 1998 Oregon shooting, not by Columbine.) But subject matter is too important and unresolved to quibble about small points in the execution.