Detention: Film Review

SXSW - Detention - 2011
ADHD take on the teen comedy incorporates slasher comedy and pop-culture obsession, and will entertain those it doesn't alienate.

The Joseph Kahn film, starring Dane Cook and Josh Hutcherson, moves at an absurd pace and dares anyone above 25 to keep up, yet the stream of genre-hopping jokes and sight gags makes the movie an entertaining ride.

AUSTIN — Like Heathers reimagined by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, then reprocessed for consumption by the Twitter generation, Joseph Kahn's Detention moves at an absurd pace and dares anyone above 25 to keep up. Despite box-office obstacles like a rating that technically prohibits much of its target demo from seeing it, the picture feels commercial enough to find a cult audience.

Announcing its excess of formal cleverness from the start, the movie introduces a hyperbolically bitchy student amid a flurry of on-screen text and direct address, only to have the text continue, and provide snarky commentary as she is comically murdered by a slasher dressed as a mutilated prom queen. (Her name, we later learn, is CinderHella.)

We shift quickly to Grizzly Lake High, a bustling school populated with a familiar ensemble: smart-but-clumsy Riley (Shanley Caswell), skateboarding hipster Clapton (Josh Hutcherson), blonde alpha-girl Ione (Spencer Locke), and loser Sander (Aaron David Johnson), who pines for Riley.

The densely woven, pop-culture-stuffed script is impossible to summarize tidily, but operates largely on tropes winkingly borrowed from other movies: The ‘90s-obsessed Ione undergoes a Freaky Friday-like switch with her mother, sending her back to 1992; the school responds to CinderHella's murders, crazily, by forcing students believed to have information into a Saturday detention straight out of The Breakfast Club; eventually, catastrophe must be averted with a nerd-built time machine housed not in a Back to the Future Delorean but within the school's mascot, a stuffed bear.

Director Kahn, a music-video vet, doesn't only use this hubbub as an occasion for fast cutting, glossy production values and out-of-nowhere visual elements (like a sequence in which a bullying jock turns out to suffer a Jeff Goldblum-ish fly disease). He and co-screenwriter Mark Palermo also cram more smart-ass dialogue and meta-movie banter in than actors should be expected to deliver or audiences to digest.

It all comes off though. Detention also offers a couple of gags so strange (a funny movie-within-movie-within-et-cetera bit involving pirated slasher-porn flicks) they look like the filmmakers' bid to be seen as the next Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze. Lest that sounds too high-brow, there's more vomit in this movie than at a frat party catered with week-old sushi.

The personalities here never get the breathing room they do in a film like Heathers. As a result, the film may not connect with viewers who aren't attention-span-challenged. Nevertheless, the stream of genre-hopping jokes and sight gags makes Detentionan entertaining ride, however fried it leaves viewers when the credits roll.

Venue: South by Southwest Film Festival, Spotlight Premieres section
Production Company: Detention Films
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Dane Cook, Shanley Caswell, Spencer Locke, Aaron David Johnson, Walter Perez, Erica Shaffer, Parker Bagley, Alison Woods
Director: Joseph Kahn
Screenwriters: Joseph Kahn, Mark Palermo
Producers: Richard Weager, Maryann Tanedo
Executive producers: Robert Abramoff, Josh Hutcherson, David Kang, Clayton Reaser, Vernon Reaser
Director of photography: Christopher Probst
Production designer: Marcelle Gravel
Music: Brain Mantia, Melissa Reese
Editor: David Blackburn
Sales: Peter Trinh, ICM
Rated R, 88 minutes