At my SIFF screening of “Detention” the director (Joseph Kahn, “Torque”) introduced the film by arrogantly addressing the critics in the audience. “Don’t try to take notes,” he cautioned, “because you’re going to hurt yourself.” Insulting the intelligence of the people who will spread the word about your film before they’ve even seen it is not a wise move. Especially when the warning is completely unwarranted.
“Detention” is also not so much a film as it is a list of things. Most of these things aren’t even that awesome. Patrick Swayze, I’ll give them. But good riddance to the Backstreet Boys, Marcy Playground and 90s catch phrases like, “all that and a bag of chips.” These things do not deserve a renaissance. When the “plot” does advance, it doesn’t go anywhere even remotely original. There’s teenage suicide (don’t do it), body-swapping, mean girls, Saturday detention monitored by a bitter principal (Dane Cook), and a jock with the DNA of a fly to name a few. I guess if we’re not remaking individual movies, we’re assembling a hideous patchwork quilt of multiple ones.
The so-called characters also feel mighty familiar. Our main protagonist is Riley (Shanley Caswell), an awkward, intellectual loser girl who is really only unattractive because of her dark hair, frumpy clothes and perpetual frown. Her best friend is Clapton (Josh Hutcherson), a music-obsessed hipster who is oblivious to Riley’s affections. Clapton is dating Ione (Spencer Locke), an attractive, popular blonde who thinks that 1992 was the coolest year in history. The peripheral characters are equally familiar archetypes. I realize that they’re supposed to be but that doesn’t make it any less trite. It speaks volumes that Dane Cook isn’t the most irritating thing about this movie.
Much like the mouthy teens in the film, “Detention” thinks it’s a lot cleverer than it actually is. It’s just exhausting to watch a movie that winks at the audience with every frame. We get it, dude. Your movie is a parody of everything including itself. Actually, Kahn doesn’t even let us figure that out. At one point, a teen snarks that another is just “a loser making mid-90s pop references.” Wiiiink.
“Detention” is not complicated. Convoluted, yes. But anyone with a GED and a rudimentary knowledge of pop culture could follow the so-called twists. Especially since “Detention” breaks the all-time record for exposition. It’s not enough to have every character projectile vomit their back-story with the relentless velocity of a Gilmore Girl. Visual footnotes in the form of lists, charts, and labels regularly fly in and out of frame, over-explaining the things the characters don’t have time to say. Apparently, Kahn and co-writer, Mark Palermo, didn’t think their audience could figure out who the characters are for themselves. (At this pace, you might miss a title or two. But you wouldn’t be missing them.) Why he thought this film would be too clever for journalists is a mystery. I think it’s more likely that he wanted to preemptively respond to the inevitable scathing reviews.
Perhaps this film is an accurate depiction of today’s over-saturated teens, but that still doesn’t mean I have to like it. And before you accuse me of being an out-of-touch oldster who hates everything new, let me tell you that I loved “Kaboom!” and “Bellflower.” So I know what a great movie about pop-culture obsessed young people looks like. It doesn’t look a thing like “Detention.” It’s not that I can’t keep up, Joseph Kahn. It’s that I don’t WANT to.