Mark Reviews Movies

Detention (2012)


Zero Stars (out of 4)

Director: Joseph Kahn

Cast: Shanley Caswell, Josh Hutcherson, Spencer Locke, Aaron David Johnson, Dane Cook

MPAA Rating: R (for bloody violence, crude and sexual content, nudity, language, some teen drinking and drug use)

Running Time: 1:29

Release Date: 4/6/12 (limited); 4/13/12 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 12, 2012

Detention is a long-form exercise in mixing metaphors that goes horribly awry. Actually, "mixed metaphors" probably isn't the right metaphor for this movie, because, by their nature, metaphors have to stand in for or represent something with some basis in reality. This movie has no grounding in any reality but its own misconceived hodgepodge of whatever pops into the heads of co-screenwriters Joseph Kahn (who also directed) and Mark Palermo. Rarely have so many words been spoken without managing to make a single literate point.

It has the form of surrealism but relies too much on the recognizable to have its own anarchic identity. It has the goal of absurdism but can't even manage to accept total meaninglessness (The actual lesson is concisely summed up for us at the very end). It's as if someone vomited pastel-hued nostalgia. I must apologize for that statement: Pastel vomit would take some effort to produce. There might be some nuance in it, as well. Look at the pastel-colored vomit in a couple scenes and decide for yourself.

As chaotic as Kahn's vision is (No matter what follows, do not for one moment believe that this movie makes a lick of sense), it is, essentially, a stream-of-consciousness piece that borrows and steals from almost every conceivable genre cliché or setup while begging that we recognize just how aware the director and Palermo are about high school movies, horror trends, and cult phenomena. Knowledge and wisdom are two different beasts; the pair may possess the former but not a smidgen of the latter. How else could anyone explain why a character is living the life of a human fly (Think the type as envisioned by David Cronenberg) after touching a meteorite and winds up with his hand stuck inside a television for most of his childhood after his abusive father decided it was the only way to hide his son's deformity?

The kids at the high school in Grizzly Lake are weird in familiar ways, because, you know, everyone's a little bit weird no matter how popular or unpopular they might be (There's as close to a central theme as there is, repeated ad nauseam). Our heroine is Riley (Shanley Caswell), a complete loner and klutz whose only solace is that she is not the biggest disaster to ever walk the halls of her school (She keeps a picture of another girl fellating the school's stuffed bear mascot on her wall as a reminder of that fact).

She has a crush on the cool kid in school Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson), who rides down the halls on a skateboard and wears neon clothes. The rest are just archetypes—a fellow loser who likes Riley, a nerdy kid named after a computer manufacturer, and a guy in a hooded sweatshirt who's been in detention for almost two decades.

Then we have the really strange characters, like Billy (Parker Bagley), the human fly and jock who wants to beat up Clapton over a girl, and Ione (Spencer Locke), the girl who used to date Billy but now fancies Clapton. The change in personality (which we never see, mind you) is explained late in the movie; it involves swapping minds and time travel (That someone's cell phone accompanies their mind into the past is actually the least egregious detail here).

By the way, there's a serial killer inspired by a fictional movie franchise roaming the streets of the town and the halls of the school, and, yes, the characters have seen all this before (The sole somewhat clever gag has them watching a bootleg video of the next movie in series the killer is copying; even that goes too far when the character in the movie-within-the-movie do the same thing). The movie opens with an aggressively misanthropic cheerleader explaining her strategy for popularity. The joke is that we're relieved when she's killed, but it's offset once every other character becomes nearly as obnoxious.

This might sound easy to follow, but keep in mind that Kahn and Palermo's script is littered with pop culture references, self-referential in-jokes, non sequiturs, and the rare piece of dialogue that actually refers to other characters in or subplots of the movie in the most minimal terms. Basically, the dialogue amounts to a string of 10-cent words punctuated by the mention of an actor who was popular during the 1980s followed by a collection of thesaurus fodder that ends with a reference to a band that was semi-popular in the 1990s. As the actors recite these gratuitous bits of trivia with rat-a-tat speed, Kahn oftentimes intercuts two or three different conversations, and his camera moves in between the random cuts with superfluous hyperactivity.

The result is a din of utter and complete nonsense that goes for broke and loses. Detention is a grueling experience.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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