SXSW ’11: Detention – Review


You must be this young to enjoy this movie

There’s a lot going on in Detention, the new movie from famed music video director Joseph Kahn. Torque, the last feature film directed by Kahn, has become somewhat of a cult hit in recent years due to its “so bad it’s good” cheesiness. Detention is almost guaranteed to gather a similarly dedicated fanbase. The only difference being the fact that Detention’s followers won’t be championing the film for its awfulness alone.

Shanley Caswell stars as Riley Jones, a neurotic teenage girl beset by suicidal tendencies — her self-destructive nature brought on by that most classic of reasons: a boy. The boy in question is Clapton Davis, a too hip for school, fashion-conscious teen in need of a drastic improvement of his grades lest he face expulsion from school courtesy of the hard-ass Principal Verge, played by Dane Cook.

All this standard-issue teenage drama flutters about like a caged bird in the sunlight — bouncing off the wide array of high-concept ideas that Kahn and co-writer Mark Palermo cooked up. Detention flirts with themes and concepts as varied as serial killers, time traveling bears, mutant jocks with fly-like superpowers, rude Canadians, alien invasions and more ‘90s references than you can shake a Jock Jams CD at. The movie is a mess of genres — all seemingly fighting against each other. The result is a landscape littered with gnawed-on, half-cooked movie concepts.

More a teen comedy than a horror film, Detention is a hyper-kinetic film whose energy could be easily compared to Edgar Wright’s Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Unfortunately, while Wright’s film featured a megaton of jokes and action crammed into a tiny shell and still managed to retain some semblance of organization and coherency, Detention has the fortitude of a tornado — throwing a million ideas at the wall and hoping that at least one sticks.

The movie is best enjoyed if you check your brain at the door and don’t bother worrying about the details. Bizarre non-sequitur scenes are explored without any concern to the movie’s plotting or pace — the audience is never given a room to breathe and thus are not expected to have the time to question the outlandish scenes’ necessity until the movie is over and the credits have rolled. A perfect example of this madcap tango with a recognizable structure would be scenes such as the one where the cheap crassness of horror movie knockoffs is explored through a telescoping series of metatextual jokes involving movie characters watching pirated films about movie characters watching pirated films.

While Detention may be the cinematic equivalent of a meal made up of Mountain Dew and Funyuns, there’s no denying its charm — born, I’m sure, from its overbearing need to entertain. The movie flirts with so many genres and themes that at least one of them is bound to make you smile. A rapid-fire machine gun of jokes, the movie hits audiences with a barrage impossible to dodge. Only the most easily annoyed and stuffy of film fans will be unable to find some aspect of the movie they can latch onto.

Detention really is the mosquito buzz ringtone of movies. Those moviegoers who are in the sweet spot between young and old — probably born in the mid- to late-‘80s and who have a fondness for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and SNICK — will be the most likely to dig Detention. The film, although made for the teen crowd, is really geared for the just slightly older.

The movie wears its hipness on its sleeve but it’s the self-deprecating kind of hipness that realizes just how dorky it looks wearing skinny jeans and an ironic fanny pack. Detention is a movie that will alienate most audiences but those able to enjoy the movie will really, really enjoy it.

Kahn’ film may not have been the best movie at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival but it’s the one I’ve thought the most about in the days since closing night and the one I want to see again the most.

Director: Joseph Kahn
Notable Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Dane Cook, Spencer Locke, Shanley Caswell and Aaron David Johnson
Writer(s): Mark Palermo and Joseph Kahn

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