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Overall Rating

Worth A Look26.92%
Average: 0%
Pretty Bad: 23.08%
Total Crap: 23.08%

4 reviews, 2 user ratings

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by Jay Seaver

"High-school chaos for the 4G generation."
4 stars

Some things about "Detention" make me think that director Joseph Kahn isn't just making a movie for young audiences, but taunting ones my age. A movie that asks "how hard is it to be cool in 1992?" (my high school graduation year) while moving at such a relentlessly 21st Century pace will either trigger early onset Grumpy Old Manism or challenge us to catch up with the next generation (or over-praise it to look like we're not dinosaurs). I opt for the second; "Detention" may be flawed, but not for being frenetic.

After a fourth-wall-obliterating opening gambit leaves the most popular girl at Grizzly Lake High School dead, attention shifts to Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell), a loser with her foot in a walking cast and a crush on boy-next-door Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson). That classic underachiever is dating 1990s fetishist Ione (Spencer Locke), to the consternation of raging jock Billy Nolan (Parker Bagley), who intends to beat Clapton to a pulp after school. Despite being suicidal and not thinking much of Sander Sanderson (Aaron David Johnson), the guy who does like her, Riley fights back when the killer targets her next. With nobody believing she was targeted, she's going to have to find the killer herself, and a movie-copying serial killer isn't the strangest thing going on in this school.

Really, not by a long shot. Kahn and co-writer Mark Palermo have kids building time machines, reports of flying saucers, Canadian debate champions, kids who have had Saturday detention for decades and principal Dane Cook. The theory appears to be that everyone in the audience knows the basics of a high-school-set film even if they're old enough that the real thing is a fairly distant memory, and any time that might otherwise be spent telling people what they already know can be spent on something that is actually entertaining. This isn't always a great idea; sometimes, that seeming filler would be pretty useful for making Riley's suicidal feelings come off as something more than a tacky plot device, and some of the tangents are just a different kind of bloat. More often than not, though, it means that something not just funny or exciting (or at least going for that), but unexpected, is happening during every minute of the film.

And "unexpected" does not just mean "random". The movie's last act is a wild action and comedy sequence, but it's also the end of a well-constructed story with twists and reversals that relatively few straight science fiction stories could pack together so tightly. Kahn and Palermo chop the stories into zippy chapters that pop into the movie as needed, and while things are fast-paced and contain frequent digressions, Kahn doesn't whiz past jokes too fast for them to sink in or bury useful information so that only the obsessive can piece everything together. Even the pop-culture references are well-done; often the laziest sort of humor, these make the audience work a little bit, whether from taking its spoof-of-a-spoof film-within-a-film premise four deep or calling out 1990s things that aren't immediately iconic (or adding a little kick by reminding Gen-X-ers that Star Trek: The Next Generation is as old and goofy-looking to today's teens as the as the original series was when we were their age).

The fast pace and puzzle-box script does tend to lead to performances that are superficially, well, superficial. Shanley Caswell (who so fits the "way too cute to be a total outcast" mold that it almost must be a deliberate parody) is charming and spitfire-y as Riley, plenty game for slapstick and action, but it takes a while to really get into her head. She can work the sudden teen girl mood swing for a punchline without it being the entire joke (as it often is with Alison Woods in the opener), and seldom has a bit that falls flat. She also pairs off nicely with both of her leading men, who make an interesting pair themselves: Josh Hutcherson as the guy who seems to be cool without effort, and Aaron David Johnson as the one who is working very hard at being cynical. Spencer Locke isn't subtle as Ione, but nuanced when she needs to be. The whole group are good at playing broad comedy even as their characters are post-ironic seen-it-alls.

"Detention" is as loopy and hyperactive as you'd expect a movie for today's generation to be - they've been raised on long-running fantasy series, comics read from right to left, instant communication and escape from boredom, and their parents' relentlessly revived and obsessed-over pop culture. That's not a fault, though; it's natural evolution. Kahn and company still go through some rough patches here, but thanks to their commitment to running at the online generation's pace, they're usually on to something fun and exciting before that becomes a problem.

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originally posted: 04/19/12 10:27:59
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2011 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

User Comments

7/21/12 Sean Harrison The movie is hilarious, a lot funnier than I thought it would be. 4 stars
5/07/12 Adam Myles This movie was a great time, do yourself a favor and catch it before it leaves theaters! 5 stars
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  13-Apr-2012 (R)
  DVD: 31-Jul-2012


  DVD: 31-Jul-2012

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