DetentionReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 04/12/12 17:48:02
"Detention" is a mind-numbingly awful spoof of teen melodramas, gory slasher epics and the like that has been sitting on a shelf for a while and which is getting a token theatrical release now for one reason and one reason only--co-star Josh Hutcherson just happens to be currently appearing in the mammoth hit "The Hunger Games" and the surprisingly durable "Journey 2: The Mysterious Island" (which has just topped the $100 million mark, an achievement that surprises me as much as it does you) and if just a fraction of the people who shelled out to see those films forks over to see it as well, it will make a lot more money than it would just sitting around doing nothing. This may sound like a crass and craven move but it is merely the latest example of a long-standing tradition of studios trying desperately to piggyback on the success of others by quickly issuing movies with a tenuous tie-in--my guess is that if they thought that they could get away with it, the people who put out "Winter's Bone" would probably reissue that one under the claim that it was some kind of prequel and with the name "Katniss" awkwardly dubbed onto the soundtrack at key moments. Actually, now that I think about it, that might have been a somewhat more satisfying cinematic experience than this boondoggle, a work of staggering pointlessness that seems to exist only to answer the question of what a Godard film movie might be like if Godard had never actually made or even saw any of his films but did manage to get around creating "Torque" instead.Set mostly within the hallowed halls of Grizzly Lake High, "Detention" offers up a student body of walking/limping/skateboarding cliches who are slowly and messily being dispatched by a masked maniac known as Cinderhella, the star of her own in-film horror franchise whose sequel is about to open as the story begins. Among the potential suspects/victims are Riley (Shanley Caswell), a mopey, ultra-politically correct type who finds one of her frequent suicide attempts interrupted by a visit from the ax-wielding psycho, Clapton (Hutcherson), the class cool kid who is threatened with expulsion unless he can either get an "A" on a test or somehow save the world, head cheerleader Ione (Spencer Locke), a 90's-obsessed teen dream whose social standing has risen since the grisly murder of her chief rival in the opening sequence, hot-head jock Bill (Parker Bagley), a meathead who wants to destroy Clapton for wooing Ione away from him and who seems to be turning into a giant fly to boot, class nerd Sander (Aaron David Johnson), a sub-Cera twerp who spends his time trying to woo Riley into bed and Principal Verge, a school administrator whose basic loathsomeness can be indicated by the fact that he is portrayed here by that symbol of all that is dark and bleak, Dane Cook. As the body count increases, most of these characters become prime suspects and with the police stumped, Principal Verge eventually hits upon the brilliant ploy of forcing them and a couple of token ethnic supporting characters (including an African-American, an Indian, a Hispanic, an Asian and a Canadian) into an all-day/all-night Saturday detention on the night of prom in the hopes of flushing the killer out, a movie that also somehow finds them dealing with such things as time travel, UFO's, body-switching, bootlegged versions of movies that haven't even been made yet and, much to the relief of anyone still sitting in the theater, the possible end of the world itself.
Make no mistake about it, "Detention" is a film that is carrying enough ideas to film up at least five complete feature films and an equal number of healthy-sized deleted scenes sections on the Blu-Ray. The central problem with the film, however, is that not a single one of them is a good one by even the most elastic standards and director/co-writer Joseph Kahn--best-known for a series of top-notch music videos for the likes of Britney Spears, U2 and Beyonce, the risible 2004 "Fast and the Furious" knockoff "Torque" and his generally inexplicable appearance in that massive documentary that accompanied the last DVD version of "Blade Runner"--has no idea how to hang any of them together in a remotely coherent manner. Instead, he takes this half-hearted mashup of elements stolen wholesale from the likes of "Heathers," "Scream" and "Donnie Darko" and simply shotguns them across the screen in an over-edited riot of audio and visual noise in the hopes that viewers will be so bludgeoned by the sheer amount of stuff that they won't realize that none of it is remotely as clever, funny or ironic as it clearly thinks it is. (To be far, the time-travel element now has a little bit of frisson to it thanks to an inadvertent Skittles reference and the asking of the deathless question "Who's the guy in the hoodie?") Like so many other movies that seem to have been specifically engineered to be instant cult classics, it spends so much time and effort trying to be hip and cool and cutting-edge that it never gets around to working at the most basic levels of storytelling. The snarky attitude grows wearying after the first few minutes and even though it clocks in at a mere 90 minutes, it feels as if it is about four times as long. The end result is a film so lacking in even the mildest of artistic achievements that a late-inning cameo from Ron Jeremy actually constitutes one of its more dignified moments. (It certainly isn't the moment in which one of the characters, for reasons that already elude me, makes a disparaging reference to "Torque"--a would-be bit of cheekiness that doesn't work because a.) virtually no one remembers that Kahn directed "Torque" and b.) no one remembers "Torque" in the first place.)It is indeed ironic that "Detention" is hitting theaters on the same day as "The Cabin in the Woods, another self-reflexive horror-comedy hybrid that wants to have its meta-movie cake and eat it too. The difference is that "The Cabin in the Woods" is an expert bit of filmmaking that works both as a horror film and as a comedy while offering intelligent and entertaining genre deconstruction to boot while "Detention" offers few genuine scares, fewer laughs and the kind of post-ironic commentary that consists almost entirely of having the characters literally screaming out that whatever nonsense is going on is meant to be post-ironic. In fact, the funniest thing about "Detention" appears not in the film proper but in the production notes where it is asserted, without any detectable sense of irony, that the aforementioned "Torque" now has a "cult following." Come to think of it, that may be the scariest aspect relating to "Detention" as well.
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