2 August 2012

Movie Review: Detention


2011, 93mins, 15
Director: Joseph Kahn
Writer (s): Joseph Kahn, Mark Palermo 
Cast includes: Shanley Caswell, Josh Hutcherson, Spencer Locke, Alison Woods, Dane Cook
UK Release Date: 27th August 2012 (DVD/Blu-Ray)

God loves a trier, and try director Joseph Kahn has with his sophomore effort “Detention”. An ADD addled mash-up of teen angst, sci-fi, slasher and Diablo Cody styled riffing, the film is pretty much as confused as it’s possible for a theatrically released motion picture to be (albeit said distribution was brief and very limited). Everything but the kitchen sink has been chucked into this coked out mess, yet despite its inability to tell anything remotely resembling a story, “Detention” does have some charms. Visually the picture is phenomenal, especially given its modest budget, and the cast are uniformly impressive. I admire Kahn’s adherence to individual vision and the underlying intelligence that peppers his dialogue (co-written by Mark Palermo), but there’s no justifiable excuse for how all over the place the final product is.

I’m about to attempt a synopsis. If you’ve seen “Detention” then you’ll be aware just how awkward that task promises to be.

Taylor Fisher (Alison Woods, “Superhero Movie”) is the most popular girl in school, but thanks to an encounter with a serial killer masquerading as horror icon Cinderhella, she is soon very dead. The reaction at Grizzly Lake High School is oddly muted, although depressed Riley (Shanley Caswell, a CV comprised largely of TV work) soon finds reason to care when the murderer marks her out as the next target. Ganging up with cooler than thou Clapton (Josh Hutcherson, “The Hunger Games”), vapid and 90s obsessed Ione (Spencer Locke, “Resident Evil: Afterlife”), geeky wise-ass Sander (Aaron David Johnson) and a host of other weirdos, Riley attempts to deduce the killer’s identity, using various methods, all the while being sentenced to detention by the bitter Principal Verge (Dane Cook, other than Hutcherson the only recognisable face on show).

Hopefully my scribbling reads coherently, but trust me when I say it only alludes to a tiny percentage of the quirk this flick harbours.

Joseph Kahn has been a big name in the music video industry for a while, the director having attained a slick eye for style during his travels in that particular world. “Detention” is primed with bizarre imagery and a hyperactive tone that initially works spectacularly, although its appeals wane considerably during the movie’s second half. Kahn uses his frame in very interesting ways, maintaining welcome freshness thanks to witty use of wordplay on screen, inspired edits and decent digital effects (I again reference the project’s less than massive $10 million budget). “Detention” is a truly original gambit, its notion to mesh High-School drama with so many other genres truly admirable, but ambition doesn’t always equate to success. Yes, there are a few laughs to be had, but the film’s jerky structure and refusal to sit still means it actually becomes kind of confusing, and its constant devotion to snark makes caring about the characters tough.

Shanley Caswell and Hutcherson get the lion’s share of screen-time, both performer’s latching onto the picture’s cynical tone and kinetic thrust. They’re pretty charming and help sell some of the more obnoxious moments proficiently, for Hutcherson especially it marks a nice change of pace, a willingness to move into less family orientated zones. The youngsters are well managed, Kahn turning decent work out of the majority, special mention going to the opening sequence headlined by Alison Woods. Woods doesn’t stick around for long, but her infectious bitchiness and solid connection with the dialogue plants some big guffaws, it’s says a lot about the actress that she remains so memorable despite occupying only about 3 minutes of early footage. Dane Cook plays it pretty straight as the principal, laying down snide and barbed one-liners every so often. As a fan of the comic it’s nice to see him ditching the goofball hysterics that have yet to serve him productively in Hollywood. If he keeps the manic gesticulating for his stage material and provides a few more performances in this style, then Cook’s thespian reputation might resuscitate slightly.

Oh lord, but what of the screenplay? “Detention” is so schizophrenic, so determined to be all things to all people that it ends up looking like a kid’s toy box. We’ve got UFOs, masked fiends, time travelling bears, Steven Segal and Patrick Swayze inspired fight choreography….the list really is endless. Individually some of these scenes are indisputably creative, but as a whole, it just doesn’t sit together satisfactorily. It’s lovely to see a film-maker strive to do something epic, to change the game if you will, but unfortunately in order to do that audiences must respond to your material. It’s not that “Detention” isn’t clever; the snappy dialogue is proof enough to suggest it is, but I just can’t imagine anybody digesting the film and fully understanding it, much less cultivating a burgeoning love for Kahn’s hectic mindfuck.

Of course as with any film that prioritises hip interactions over three dimensional character development, “Detention” struggles to imbue its occupants with any engaging qualities, something that deeply frustrates during the film’s bombastic but muddled climax. With its frantic visuals and deliberate stereotypes it’s clear this project doesn’t belong in our world, not that the director ever seems to have wanted it that way. I’m aware that criticising “Detention” for stretching believability is like attacking McDonalds for being unhealthy, yet I can’t help but feel an extra splash of reality might be exactly what this befuddling effort required.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012


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