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Originally published Friday, August 5, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Ambitious political thriller "Edukators" fizzles out

In the striking opening scene of "The Edukators," a traveling family of four returns to its comfortably appointed home and finds its possessions...

Special to The Seattle Times

In the striking opening scene of "The Edukators," a traveling family of four returns to its comfortably appointed home and finds its possessions rearranged, as if by a ghostly anarchist.

Chairs are piled, as in "Poltergeist," into a surreal tower. The stereo is in the refrigerator. A collection of figurines is in the wrong room. Nothing has been stolen, but everything in this private sanctuary has become a prop in some outsider's mind game. The only clue is a note: "Your days of plenty are numbered."

Movie review 2.5 stars

Showtimes and trailer

"The Edukators" with Stipe Erceg, Daniel Brühl, Julia Jentsch and Burghart Klassner. Directed by Hans Weingartner, written by Weingartner and Katharina Held. 126 minutes. Rated R for language, brief nudity. In German with English subtitles. Varsity.

The so-called Edukators have struck. In co-writer and director Hans Weingartner's ambitious but ultimately lackluster drama about the conflict between extremist politics and selfish human nature, a pair of radicalized, young friends, Peter (Stipe Erceg) and Jan (Daniel Brühl), are trying to change the world, one houseful of conspicuous consumers at a time.

The titular pranksters spend their days seething about Third World sweatshops and their nights staking out expensive abodes.

Given the opportunity, the Edukators will break in, do their guerrilla-theater bit and get out, happy to have messed with the heads of oblivious capitalists.

Peter and Jan would cheerfully carry on their piecemeal revolution, except that Peter takes a holiday and Jan falls for Jules (Julia Jentsch), his partner's waitress girlfriend.

Jules, burdened by a lifetime debt to a wealthy businessman, Hardenberg (Burghart Klassner), becomes recklessly enthusiastic about the Edukators' exploits, even more after she and Jan happen upon Hardenberg's unoccupied mansion.

While inside, Jan and Jules encounter the returning Hardenberg, take him hostage and enlist Peter in a desperate escape to a rustic mountain retreat.

There, the trio grapple with their situation while jealousy and suspicion gnaw at their comradeship. The wily, 50-year-old Hardenberg gradually evolves from victim to confidante, reminiscing about his own idealistic, dropout youth but also carefully watching, even encouraging, the dissolution of his captors' dreams.

If you think "The Edukators" sounds like a drama that must surely sizzle on several levels, you're right. Sadly, it doesn't. Weingartner's potentially great material, like the kidnappers, grows curiously feckless once the action shifts to the hideaway.

While there's room for psychological and political exploration — if for no other reason than to update the old romantic-triangle-set-against-a- historical-epoch movie theme — Weingartner adopts a less-is-more stance. The opportunities lost are profound.

Tom Keogh:

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