Written by Joseph Kahn and Mark Palermo
Directed by Joseph Kahn

Fourth walls? Where we’re going, we don’t need fourth walls! Yes, it is time to review Detention, which I got to see at an advanced screening for free (Tars sells out again! Damn you, Tars Tarkas!) Detention is basically Scream by way of The Breakfast Club and Juno, with more references to the 90s than you can shake your beeper at! If you aren’t familiar with Joseph Kahn, then you need to drop everything (after you’re done reading this and every other article on the site) and go get his other film, Torque, the greatest street racing film ever made. If you think there is a top for things to be over the top, Kahn proves you wrong by going so far over we’re under again, and then even more over! Kahn’s career in music videos serves him well in creating a stylized whirlwind of awesome visual tricks, camera angles, text segments, flashbacks, and crazed editing.

Detention is a comedy, no doubt about that. But there is a killer on the loose, and following the tradition a popular girl is slayed in the opening sequence. Talking to the camera the whole while, she sets up the general feel for the film while spouting the kind of spoiled teenage nonsense you expect from and MTV reality show. So by the time she dies, you’re starting to believe in a higher power. The killer is dressed as “Cinderhella”, a character from the movie within the movie. The killings take a backseat for large parts of the film, our actual protagonist is another girl, who is about as popular as Casey Anthony Baby-sitters Club Adventures.

Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell) – This is what a Feminist looks like” declares her t-shirt written in Sharpie. Riley Jones is your sarcastic put-upon heroine who is the invisible dork of the school. Her futile crush on her longtime friend Clapton Davis is going nowhere, her life is a series of disappointments and disasters that her knowledge of 90s trivia and sarcasm can’t defeat, and worst of all, Cinderhella is trying to kill her. Shanley Caswell makes Ellen Page look like Kim Kardashian.
Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson) – The cool skater guy that all the girls want to love and be loved by. Clapton is a step away from being tossed from high school forever unless he saves the universe, a mean bully wants to kill him because he’s dating the bully’s ex-girlfriend, and he runs a website where he reviews…music. And, yes, Josh Hutcherson was in The Hunger Games
Ione (Spencer Locke) – A mindless cheerleader with a head that’s a steel trap for knowledge of 90s music, her passion for it claims Clapton’s heart. Ione used to be best friends with Riley until she suddenly change and Clapton became her man despite knowing of Riley’s crush. I think I enjoyed Spender Locke’s performance the most of all the actors, her portrayal of airheaded knowledge made you think she could keep up with the 90s reference zingers while still throwing around retro dance moves.
Principal Verge (Dane Cook) – The embittered and scarred principal of the high school, who has become the embodiment of hate for the student body. Anyone who falls behind becomes the problem that he needs to solve, permanently.
Time Traveling Mascot Bear (Himself) – Okay, I couldn’t find a good picture of the bear, but I already wrote this and am lazy. The mascot for Grizzly Lake High School is a stuffed grizzly bear that’s been there forever, and one of the characters turns it into a time travel device. Also the bear was probably sent here by aliens. Maybe.

The credits get displayed during a great opening sequence throughout the high school as we get introduced to the wide and diverse group of characters, the credits passing by camouflaged into everything going on. Our focus are on the people, easily identifying the nerds, goths, cool kids, angry jocks, stoners, and the rest. The loose plot follows as Riley and Josh (and sometimes Ione) try to figure out who is killing people while a series of events happen. Flashbacks, flashforwards, and alien sightings add to the flavor, fleshing out the stereotypes into real characters with backstories, even though most of them are crazy and a few only make sense later in the film.

My favorite vignette focuses on the bully character and why he was forced to keep a tv over his hand as a child. This explains both his anger and why he’s mutating into a fly! After another murder during a party, the major characters are thrown into Saturday detention and forced to figure out who is the murderer among them. Throw in a guy whose been in detention since the 90s (and working the whole time on a huge equation he’s been carving in the desk), a time traveling mascot bear, and a movie within a movie within a movie within a movie (etc. etc.) that has to be seen to be disbelieved, and the film his hyperactive overdrive, blasting to ludicrous speed and going to plaid. Oh, wait, that’s an 80s reference, not a 90s reference. Just pretend, okay?

When describing what’s going on visually, the film brings to mind Rick McCallum (of Star Wars Prequels fame) talking about how every scene is so dense with CGI crap. While in Detention, every scene has two things going on in it, but most of what is going on makes sense and adds to the scene, even if you don’t realize it just yet. A simple example is a sequence where a dejected Riley attempts to seduce her teacher is punctuated by two high school wrestlers having a match in the background, loudly grunting and grappling. Riley is rejected, as we see it’s because the teacher is gay and is leaving with his boyfriend. Some of the text scenes do flash by too fast to read, with an entire paragraph of text that is shown for less than a second. But even then you don’t need to know everything, and most of the important text is given ample time. The minor characters were distinct, I especially loved Tiffany Boone’s bored goth and Jonathan Park’s lovelorned genius. And don’t get into a debate with a Canadian!

The rapid pace, jumpcuts, and erratic story narrative will probably tick off a lot of stuffy reviewers who are more comfortable watching films about 1920s Armenian busboys who do mosaics, but for the rest of us, things will be really rocking. Actually, I do think there is an age and cultural limit, and though you can be too young and still be vaguely familiar enough to get the references (the plot and pacing will be familiar enough to not be a problem), there is undoubtedly an older limit. So don’t trust anyone over 40 when they talk about Detention, unless they say they loved it. Though a slasher film, it is light on the gore and heavy on the heart beneath the pulse of excitement.

Needless to say, I though this film was spectacular. Though my wife was not impressed, I liked the crazy mixed with the nonstop references and visuals. The camera tricks alone are more than a lot of films bother with. When going over some of the aspects later, everything made sense in an internal logic, parts explained by events that happened later that were actually before. If you catch my drift. Unfortunately, my desire not to spoil things when I talk about the advanced screenings prevents me from mentioning much more, but if you are in the demographic that reads TarsTarkas.NET, I highly recommend going to see Detention instead of The Hunger Games for the 5th time!

Remember Patrick Swayze in Road House is how to study for fights!

Rated 8/10 (Young Principal, builds a bear, needs more eyeliner, Artie Ziff, Good Will Hunting, Hunger Games was in a Food Fight, Oh Canada, Good doggy!)

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  1. Pingback: Detention | Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit

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