Back in 2004, pop music video auteur Joseph Kahn burst into the film world with his feature-length debut, Torque, a “special” film in every sense of the word. Produced by Neal Moritz, one of the men behind The Fast and the Furious, it was intended as Warner Bros.’ stab at capitalizing on the popularity of said franchise and its genre, but what Kahn actually made is the Scary Movie version. The struggle between competing visions is apparent during certain bits, with stupidity winning every time despite whose fault it was. It lives in a special kind of excess, one where it feels comfortable stealing lines of dialogue word-for-word from the film that’s responsible for its very existence and then has a character quickly retort, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.” Women fighting on motorcycles, Ice Cube sneering in every scene and Adam Scott doing his best impression of David Caruso as an FBI agent; this flick has EVERYTHING you could possible want for it to be a trashy good time.
Detention follows the same sort of modus operandi. It lives in excess of what it’s trying to copy; in this case, it’s Scream and the slasher genre in general. Kahn, with writing partner Mark Palermo, throws in everything and the kitchen sink and, figuring that’s not nearly enough, decides to toss a time-traveling bear into the mix.
A grizzly bear, if you want to be specific.
After the death of a spoiled bitch in the opening scene (I only say this because glittery letters spill onto the screen to let you know that she is, in fact, a bitch), the horribly unpopular Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell) begins to suspect the students of Grizzly Lake High are being stalked by someone masquerading as Cinderhella, the villain in a popular fictitious slasher – think Stab meets Saw. At first she welcomes death since her crush Clapton (Josh Hutcherson) is otherwise occupied by the vapid Ione (Spencer Locke), who is, for reasons not yet known, obsessed with the early nineties. A strange shtick involving Cronenberg’s The Fly and a whole lot of self-aware dialogue later (there’s even a one-liner dissing Torque), the group of friends are thrown into detention during their prom by Principal Verge (Dane Cook) who’s convinced that one of them is the masked killer.
The film’s biggest problem is that it’s working with way too many ideas and they’re thrown at the audience way too fast. The jokes and references piled on top of each other at such a breakneck pace that you’d have to watch the film at half the speed with subtitles to catch everything, and then after that, watch it again just to make sure you caught it all. But, in a way, there’s something to admire about the manic speed at which it operates and the ADD approach of Kahn’s direction. Despite making it outside the studio system, it should come to no one’s surprise that the film has that glossy, music video look given Kahn’s background; what is surprising, however, is that the practical effects are actually quite good and although there are a few CGI bits, they seem to have been handled with care for the most part. Hutcherson and Caswell have great chemistry as the unlikely couple and Dane Cook, who normally makes me cringe, made me chuckle once or twice. If anything, his performance is the most subdued thing in the film.
Detention can be best appreciated as a live-action cartoon, and is more energetic and fun than the last couple of Scary Movie sequels. It isn’t really a middle-of-the-road sort of film; you’re either going to really love the ridiculous fast-paced nature of this horror-sci-fi-comedy or you’ll really despise Kahn’s self-indulgence and his attempt to bombard you with more than you can mentally process in one sitting. There’s a lot to like that I didn’t mention because I feel saying much more than I already have will ruin how insane the film is. Despite being a mess, Detention is mesmerizing and something you definitely won’t be able to take yours eyes off of.
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