Review: ‘The Substitute’

More sticky than icky, "The Substitute" sends a love-starved alien to terrorize a classroom of youngsters and, not incidentally, teach them that love is the greatest force in the universe. Paprika Steen's wickedly over-the-top performance in the title role is the only real sign of life here, pumping some diabolical energy into this slapdash and sentimental thriller from helmer Ole Bornedal (who directed the Danish and U.S. versions of "Nightwatch"). Local biz could be tasty, but offshore prospects don't look out of this world.

More sticky than icky, “The Substitute” sends a love-starved alien to terrorize a classroom of youngsters and, not incidentally, teach them that love is the greatest force in the universe. Paprika Steen’s wickedly over-the-top performance in the title role is the only real sign of life here, pumping some diabolical energy into this slapdash and sentimental thriller from helmer Ole Bornedal (who directed the Danish and U.S. versions of “Nightwatch”). Local biz could be tasty, but offshore prospects don’t look out of this world.

An alien with the body of a tall blonde and the bedside manner of a Nazi, substitute teacher Ulla Harms (Steen) barks up a storm, indulges in mind control and sadistically taunts one of her students (Jonas Wandschneider) about his dead mum. When the kids try to alert their clueless parents, Ulla turns on the waterworks, and Steen has a ball playing weepy one minute, witchy the next. Harmless if derivative, pic chugs along until the poorly edited finale, replete with live poultry, “Matrix”-style bullet-freezing and unconvincing trick shots. Solemn voiceover and Howard Shore-ish score mawkishly suggest that love makes the world go ’round.

The Substitute

Denmark

Production

A Thura Film presentation. (International sales: Nordisk Film Intl. Sales, Copenhagen.) Produced by Michael Obel. Directed by Ole Bornedal. Screenplay, Henrik Prep, Bornedal.

Crew

Camera (color, Panavision widescreen), Dan Laustsen; editor, Thomas Krag; music, Marco Beltrami; music supervisor, Jorgen Lauritsen; costume designer, Ole Kofoed. Reviewed on DVD, Cannes, May 25, 2007. (In Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Paprika Steen, Jonas Wandschneider, Ulrich Thomsen.

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