SXSW Review: ‘Detention’ Laughably Posits A Universe In Which Josh Hutcherson Could Be Considered Cool
Detention appears to be built from the ground up as a movie whose detractors will inevitably be told that they “just don’t get it.” A hyper-stylized, post-modern teen slasher of sorts, the movie mixes an incredibly self-aware attitude with onscreen text and graphics, a shattered fourth wall, a confused mash-up of 80s and 90s homage, time travel, suspected bestiality, Hoobastank, suicide bombers, Fraggle Rock, and more.
It also claims to be a comedy.
Riley (Shanley Caswell) is a high school student looking to end her life. She’s far from popular, her foot’s broken, the boy she likes is in lust with another girl, and her principal is Dane Cook. You can understand her interest in suicide. Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson) is her inexplicably popular best friend whose interest in the head cheerleader makes him oblivious to Riley’s affection. That same interest draws the ire of the captain of the football team who has a few secrets of his own.
Like the fact that he has fly blood and spent his formative years with his hand stuck inside of a portable television set.
Don’t worry if you’ve already forgotten the details of that last sentence as director/co-writer Joseph Kahn forgets it even quicker. No sooner has the film introduced this ode to The Fly then it drops the idea all together and moves on to something equally absurd and untethered to any real plot or narrative. Detention never stops moving as it jumps from one scene to the next, and while that makes for a film that’s rarely visually boring it also means the story never has time to take hold.
Kahn’s script fancies itself an even hipper and smarter Scream with its masked killer stalking and murdering the various high school cliches, but that’s only the beginning. The school’s stuffed mascot is a time machine, two characters enjoy a Freaky Friday-like body swap, a bomb constructed in chemistry class is capable of blowing up the entire town, a Canadian exchange student is a reigning debate champion… the list of incompatibly zany scenes goes on and on.
Movies don’t need to be believable in the real world, but they need to be convincing in the one they’ve created. The thread of inanity runs throughout the film, but Kahn gives up the ideal early on with the arrival of Hutcherson’s Clapton Davis. Hutcherson is a capable young actor, but in no universe is he the most popular kid in school. Especially when his wardrobe consists of bright, eighties-style, plasticine clothing.
Like much of the film, Clapton Davis is a reference to teen films from the 80’s and 90’s. Kahn’s initial intent was to focus on the 80’s, but Hot Tub Time Machine talked him out of it and he moved his references up a decade. Well, most of them anyway. Clapton Davis is a carefree superstar like Ferris Bueller even to the point of having him referred to by his full name more often than not. The film features a detention in the library segment consisting of multiple character types. John Hughes would be proud if he wasn’t too busy rolling over in his grave at the continued dumbing down of cinematic teens.
It’s not just the kitchen sink that Kahn throws into his film, it’s the entire kitchen department from your local Home Depot store. The barrage of ideas, jokes, and gags crowd the screen and clamor for attention that you won’t be interested in giving for very long. It’s loud, garish, and endlessly pointless, and the three minor bits that will make you smile are exceptions to the rule. But hey… maybe I just don’t get it.
The Upside: The opening scene feels fresh and unique; Dane Cook is far from the worst thing in the film; there are exactly three funny moments
The Downside: Everything else