Detention jams as many ideas into its 90-minute run time as possible — including references to The Breakfast Club, the Disney Renaissance, the Saw franchise, David Cronenburg, Scream, Stephen King, the Backstreet Boys, Mean Girls, Nickelodeon, and lots of other pop trivia. Additionally, there is a time-traveling bear and a mutant fly-boy. The flick is also a jumbled mess, but mostly pretty fun in that live-action-cartoon-soaked-in-blood kind of way.
Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell) is an uncool high school girl — a half-baked vegan who’s pretty smart, but not smart enough to win the hearts and minds of her peers or the Debate Club. She is majorly crushing on the slacker-heartthrob Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson), who is way in-like with Ione (Spencer Locke), an insipid ‘90s-obsessed cheerleader and Riley’s former BFF. Clapton also is desperate to graduate high school, and needs an “A” or save the world before Principal Verge (Dane Cook) will let that happen.
Anyway, Riley is depressed and decides to kill herself. However, she is interrupted mid-hanging when a masked serial killer tries to brutalize her with an ax. Takes you back, right? Didn’t high school suck?
There’s a message in there about how real life high school isn’t actually so bad, but I’m not convinced this is a concern to director/co-writer Joseph Kahn. No, he’s kinda busy proving he’s a worthwhile filmmaker after Torque, a 2004 film that I didn’t see but was apparently pretty awful due to studio meddling. Not unlike Clapton Davis, Kahn seems to feel that he must get an “A” with Detention if he wants to keep making films, and is throwing everything at the wall in hopes anything will stick.
(Note: Did anybody out there even remember Torque before I mentioned it? Anybody? Me neither.)
The script, co-written by Mark Palermo, is actually pretty fun at the start, but doesn’t play as smart as people might think it’s trying to. The characters are clichés of classic horror clichés in a smart-ass movie out to be the smart-assiest movie that ever smart-assed. But as Detention steamrolls, the plot becomes continuously more convoluted as the barrage of unnecessarily expository dialogue and increasingly obscure gags never transcend into something smarter than everything its creator’s aim to criticize. Every performance in the film is stellar, which is the audience’s only anchor as we drift out into the sea of the film’s nonsensical third act.
That said, I liked Detention. The film is hyper-kinetic but unfocused, scary but never fear-inducing, hilarious but irritating, precious but pretentious. It plays like Scott Pilgrim and Juno MacGuff had an unprotected orgy with Kevin Williamson (writer of Scream) and the cast of Heathers, and the resulting offspring popped out wearing converse, ripped jeans, and a neon jacket rigged with iPhones playing endlessly streaming YouTube videos.
Okay, a less referential analogy: Detention is like eating week-old birthday cake for breakfast — tasty, colorful, somewhat stale, not really sustaining, and ultimately underwhelming. But it’s still birthday cake, right?