The trope of the white teacher who explains to her minority students that poetry was just Shakespeare's way to rap is so self-evidently trite and problematic that even mocking that motif has become something of a cliché. Writer-director Sarah Spillane makes some attempt to sidestep the white-savior narrative inherent to her Australia-set drama "Around the Block," but the film's musty premise, about a novice instructor trying to deter an Aboriginal student from crime with Shakespeare, renders it the cinematic equivalent of warmed-over soup from the school cafeteria.
Christina Ricci stars as Dino, a California expat in Sydney mounting a stage production of "Hamlet" starring her 11th-grade class. Because her students are Maori, Lebanese and several other ethnicities disfavored by mainstream Australian society, Dino is met with skepticism from the administration and her Aussie boyfriend (Daniel Henshall). Her secret weapon is her lead actor Liam (Hunter Page-Lochard), a dreamy, lanky truant with an imprisoned white father (Matt Nable), an unemployed Aboriginal mother (Ursula Yovich), and fluency in iambic pentameter.
Liam gets caught up in a revenge murder of his own — a bit of parallel that's fortunately much less embarrassing than Dino's overly earnest compare-and-contrast classroom discussions about Shakespeare and Tupac Shakur. Though Page-Lochard manages to make his passive participation in violence compelling, "Around the Block" remains more lecture than drama about racism and its tragic consequences.
"Around the Block."
No MPAA rating.
Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes.