MR HOLLAND'S OPUS Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Glenne Headly. Directed by Stephen Herek. Category I. Opens Thursday at Windsor, Silvercord, Mongkok Broadway, Tsuen Wan Broadway, Kwai Fong Broadway. THE good-hearted teacher who fills his disinterested students with knowledge and faith in humanity is an increasingly popular plot in films. Jon Voight was one of the first to start the ball rolling in 1974 with Conrack. Since then we've had Robin Williams and rich kids in Dead Poets Society, Edward James Olmos and inner city kids in Stand And Deliver, Danny DeVito and Marines in Renaissance Man and Michelle Pfeiffer, a former Marine, in Dangerous Minds. In Mr Holland's Opus, a light, sometimes overwrought drama, Dreyfuss plays Glenn Holland, a composer who takes a job as a music teacher to make ends meet. Departing from the earlier quick-fix examples of the genre, the film charts his progress over 30 years. Holland helps students realise their inner selves - something you can apparently do by teaching them to master lip technique on the clarinet and bang a drum on time - but to do so he has to give up his dream of becoming a famous composer. Directed by Stephen Herek (Bill And Ted's Excellent Adventure), Mr Holland looks like it started off as unambitious family entertainment and became too ambitious for its own good. The film begins as light as puff pastry; when things go wrong, there's nothing a quick bawl and a hug won't cure. As it continues, it appears Herek is trying to make a point in a movie that just doesn't have a solid enough base to support it. Dreyfuss, with hairpiece and makeup to hide his age, plays Holland, an enthusiastic composer/musician who has traded in a life on the road for the stability of a teaching job and a young wife, played by Glenne Headly. The job is initially a stopgap so he can save enough cash to fund the composition of his masterwork, but his wife falls pregnant, they rent a bigger house, etc. It's the same old story: bye, bye Beethoven. Much too nice to be a great artist, Holland goes along with domesticity, somehow comparing the conception of his child to the day he discovered saxophonist John Coltrane on the radio. Luckily, he's really taken to his job as a teacher. The same old scenes are rolled out: Holland interests his class in music by playing rock 'n' roll on the piano and gets a sad-eyed girl to master the clarinet by telling her to close her eyes and 'think about a sunset'. It's all about bonding and looking within. DeVito did it much better in Renaissance Man; he made us laugh at the same time. Another plot strand is added when Holland's baby turns out to be deaf, allowing him to choke back tears during a class lecture on Beethoven, who - unlike his child - wasn't born deaf but became so. We never see Holland exhibit an iota of musical talent, so it's probably a good thing he stuck with the day job. In fact, one never exactly gets a handle on what kind of musician Holland actually is: all we know is he wants to compose a symphony and he used to play cover versions in a lounge band. Perhaps it was Herek's intention to make him an everyman with hope rather than talent. Or, perhaps it was just an oversight. US reviews have been good and the localised nature of the film means it will probably be received better in the US than elsewhere. The school activities are chock-a-block with American football, cheerleading and marching bands - things that mean little to non-suburban Americans. The bland lifestyle of these suburbanites is hardly universal and Herek does little to make it appear so. In fact, the film has been compared to the works of Frank Capra, though that doesn't mean much as any film showing homely honesty, family values and gentle suffering winning out is automatically described as Capra-esque. Capra had a way of making the most ordinary life seem special, a unique and precious gift. Mr Holland's Opus makes ordinary life seem just that: ordinary and dull.