'Fack Ju Göthe 2': Film Review

Now with added palm trees.

This sequel to Germany's biggest hit of 2013 again recounts the story of a crook who can barely spell but is forced to be a teacher to recover his loot.

A semi-illiterate crook is forced yet again to become a teacher to recover his loot in Fack Ju Göhte 2, from returning Turkish-German filmmaker Bora Dagtekin. This is of course the follow-up to the smash hit comedy that was the biggest success of the German box-office in 2013, selling over a million more tickets than that year’s number two, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. For this second outing, Dagtekin again recruits his go-to star, Elyas M’Barek, whose hapless yet often smiling Zeki Mueller is now forced to take his unruly students all the way to Thailand “for a class excursion” when a teddy bear containing his diamonds ends up in a container intended for tsunami-victims relief.

Despite a greater focus on the students, since Mueller’s antagonist/love interest doesn’t come to Asia with him, this is essentially more of the same with added palm trees. As such, it's already become a monster hit in Germany, where it had the biggest-ever opening for a local film last month. It now stands at over $50 million and has a good chance of topping the original’s $60 million, which again bodes well for its sales and box-office prospects in other (especially Eastern European) territories.

Bank robber-turned-educator Mueller fell hard for the charms of his meticulous and prim school colleague, Lisi (Karoline Herfurth), in part one and it looks like she’s managed to domesticate the beast at the start of part two. But when some diamonds turn up from a shady associate, Mueller hides them in a cuddly toy that is only minutes later collected by Lisi as part of a donation she’s planning for Thai tsunami victims (when this tragedy occurred exactly is never clear and generally, Dagtekin is not very forthcoming with either temporal or geographic details).

The film needs almost 30 minutes -- including a contrived subplot involving the return of the teacher (Uschi Glas) whom Mueller nominally replaced in part one -- before the lawbreaker can finally flash his washboard abs in tropical Thailand. His rowdy students are there with him but not Lisi, who manages to be held as a terrorist suspect at the airport.

Clearly, this sequel again wants audiences to have a good time while being generally loud, colorful and irreverent. But instead of taking aim at the German education system, as in the original, the writer-director here tries to use things such as terrorism and natural disasters as the starting point of some of the jokes, which is riskier and at times more awkward than funny. And some of the culturally specific jokes feel a little stale and misogynist, such as when women’s nether regions are used to once again launch ping-pong balls into an appreciative male crowd.

When the film finally seems to actually become interested in the locals, in a subplot best described as a The Beach/Lord of the Flies mash-up involving a group of apparently self-reliant tsunami orphans, Dagtekin ruins the opportunity by rather incongruously making their leader a spunky blond Austrian kid (Johannes Nussbaum). To make matters worse, he then ties it (spoiler alert!) to another subplot involving a rival German school also traipsing through Thailand and led by, of all things, Lisi’s ex (Volker Bruch). Any sense at all of the Kingdom of Thailand beyond its availability as a playground for rich white kids and their clueless non-teacher is missing, which is something of a surprise seen the director’s own multicultural background and his early TV and film work with M’Barek, Turkish for Beginners.

That said, the general cultural tone-deafness and a lack of the opposites-attract tension between Lisi and Zeki that made part one so much fun is at least partially compensated for by the fact some of the students get some frequently amusing time in the spotlight. The gloriously named Chantal Akerman (Jella Haasse) is still as ditzy as ever and dumb class macho Daniel (Max von der Groeben, like Haasse encoring) still lives up to his nickname, “Danger”. Withdrawn newcomer Etienne (Lucas Reiber), a Lord of the Rings fanatic who has Asperger’s, also impresses in his few scenes, though it does make one wonder whether Etienne’s presence is meant to foreshadow the fact Fack has more endless endings than Return of the King.

Mid-film, there’s a beautifully written and played night-time sequence when the kids gather and read text messages from their parents that has a keenly observed melancholy that reminds viewers it doesn’t take Dagtekin a lot to write heartfelt material. It’s a shame he doesn’t think the movie needs more of it.

Production companies: Constantin Film Produktion, Constantin Film International

Cast: Elyas M’Barek, Karoline Herfurth, Katja Riemann, Jana Pallaske, Volker Bruch, Jella Haasse, Max von der Groeben, Alwara Hoefels, Gizem Emre, Anna Lena Klenke, Lucas Reiber, Johannes Nussbaum

Writer-Director: Bora Dagtekin

Producers: Bora Dagtekin, Lena Schoemann

Executive producer: Martin Moszkowitz

Director of photography: Andreas Berger

Production designer: Eva Stiebler

Editor: Charles Ladmiral

Music: Michael Beckmann, Konstantin Djorkaeff Scherer, Vincent Stein

Casting: Daniela Tolkien

Sales: Picture Tree International

No rating, 115 minutes

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