Director: Joseph Kahn
Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Shanley Caswell, Spencer Locke, Aaron David Johnson, Dane Cook, Walter Perez
Undoubtedly the idea was to bring out the long-delayed horror-comedy “Detention,” starring Josh Hutcherson, after the profile-raising release of “The Hunger Games” last month, but there almost certainly was also a significant amount of email back-and-forth from Hutcherson’s management team with other studio folk about how to downplay its theatrical unspooling, and kind of dump the body from a slowly moving van, without hoping too many people notice. A film of boundless energy and if not empty voice then at least wholly scattershot imagination, the over-the-top “Detention” debuted last year at SXSW, which seems a perfect home for its robust, scrupulously manufactured eccentricities.
Its story centers around someone re-enacting the slasher killings of a popular horror movie villain against a couple unsuspecting high schoolers. Lest one think this is another twist or update on “The Faculty” or “Cherry Falls,” however, the film also nips liberally from canted high school dark comedies like “Pretty Persuasion,” “Brick” and “Assassination of a High School President.” It’s basically sort of like what would happen if “Scream” and “Donnie Darko” spawned a love child in a threeway with “Inception,” and then that baby married the loquacious “Juno,” dosed up on some ecstasy, fired up “The Breakfast Club”‘s “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” on their iPod, and went ironically to a “Napoleon Dynamite” fan convention. In the way that sounds more like a car crash than awesome and intriguing.
Set in the small town of Grizzly Falls, “Detention” centers around a suicidal social outcast with a broken foot, Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell), who has a crush on skateboarding hipster Clapton Davis (Hutcherson, also an executive producer on the project). Clayton has the hots for Ione (Spencer Locke), and is set to go to prom with her, which has put him in the crosshairs of Ione’s jock ex-boyfriend. After a couple fellow students get slaughtered in a fashion reminiscent of horror icon “Cinderhella,” Riley barely escapes the killer while trying to kill herself. No one much believes her story, however (“Worst. Motive. Ever!” snips one of the investigating cops), including Clapton’s friend Sander (Aaron David Johnson).
A third victim prompts action from demented principal Karl Verge (Dane Cook), who tosses Riley and company in a Saturday detention that effectively scraps any plans of attending prom. There, they meet Elliot Fink (Walter Perez), a mysterious kid who says he’s been in detention for 19 years. And that’s when the time travel starts occurring, via a giant stuffed bear, the school’s mascot.
“Whaaaa…?” you say? Yeah, the above synopsis does only a halfway decent job of conveying the wild and wooly narrative trappings of “Detention,” which contains so many hairpins it could be an old-time jewelry box. As scripted by Mark Palermo and director Joseph Kahn, the movie seems habitually less concerned about what’s going on story-wise than scoring points on some sort of theoretical hipster Wonderlic Test.
Based on its rapid-fire, jokes-per-minute ratio, some of its asides score (“‘Definitely Maybe’ is like the British working class Rohypnol”), and there are some funny textual ideas incorporated into the movie’s telling (a throwaway mention to Bronson Pinchot rates an informational Wikipedia pop-up bubble on screen), but “Detention” is so relentlessly quippy (girls bark, “Get off my nuts, OK?”) and free of genuine character differentiation that it seems to fall victim to some of the same excess it spends time slagging on. Kahn throws everything at the screen, and uses his extensive background in music videos to wrangle a bunch of cool (and presumably discounted) music cues to enliven his film. (He also throws in a dig at 2004’s Ice Cube vehicle “Torque,” his feature film debut.) And his production design is pretty great, especially considering what his budget must have been.
But the onscreen winks (“The Movie ‘Detention’ is Against Drunk Driving Even if You’re Suicidal”), detours into body swap comedy and endless pop cultural references and cutesy call-backs — to “Roadhouse” and Sting’s “Fields of Gold,” for instance — are too clever by about three-quarters. All of this comes across less as original and more as a very studied reproduction of quirkiness. In fact, “Detention” seems built from the ground up to diffuse any criticism of it as being from fuddy-duddy types who don’t “get it.” No, it’s just that any interest in the story expires long, long before the end of “Detention.”
For more information, visit www.DetentionMovie.com.
Written by: Brent Simon