If "Dead Poets Society" had taken place at a Texas home for orphaned boys instead of at a Vermont prep school, it would have been a little like "Shout."
Set in the 1950s (as the much-preferable "Dead Poets Society" was), this unfortunate motion picture tells the story of a young teacher who awakens the spirit of the boys in his charge. But instead of poetry, he uses music -- specifically, rock and roll.
As the movie opens, Jack Cabe (John Travolta) is just arriving at the Benedict Home for Boys, where his assignment is to lead the band. To get the boys fired up about music, Jack challenges official policy and introduces them to the forbidden sounds of emerging rock.
One of Jack's students is Jesse Tucker (James Walters), a cuddly rebel who looks and acts something like what James Dean would have looked and acted like had he grown up in the Beaver Cleaver household. (He's no prairie fire, that's for sure.) Jesse's in love with Sara, the daughter of the stuffed shirt (Richard Jordan) who runs the home. (The sweet-faced Heather Graham -- as Sara -- appears to be waiting for the next boat to the "Blue Lagoon.")
Almost scene for scene, "Shout" follows the pattern of "Dead Poets Society" (1989), often with unintentionally hilarious results. When the boys in "Society," for example, met in secret to read poetry, the idea was plausible. But when the boys in "Shout" meet secretly to play rock and roll, you have to wonder if they really expect that their loud rehearsals will go undetected by the administration.
Slow preteens may not be troubled by the movie's many absurdities, especially if they respond to its alienated-youth theme. But wouldn't they prefer something riskier and more contemporary?
Mr. Travolta and Mr. Jordan coast through the film, as does Linda Fiorentino ("Vision Quest"), who pops up briefly as Mr. Travolta's love interest.
Starring John Travolta.
Directed by Jeffrey Hornaday.