Detention (2011) Film Review, a movie directed by Joseph Kahn and starring Josh Hutcherson, Dane Cook, Shanley Caswell, Spencer Locke, Aaron David Johnson, Walter Perez, Erica Shaffer, Parker Bagley, and Alison Woods.
If only the central plot to Detention could have been as compelling as the way it began, director Joseph Kahn would have had a parody/comedy of the magnitude of Old School (possibly) in his filmography or at least at the level of some of the scenes in Cabin in the Woods. Detention was a film that referenced its genres and numerous other films with a freshness that has alluded the last three Scream films and the last four Scary Movie films.
There were so many 80’s and 90’s references in Detention that the film was almost congested with them. Writers Joseph Kahn and Mark Palermo showed from this reference propensity that they knew their subject matter: nothing was forced (“I’m fled”) but not all of it worked. It was astonishing how many quips, bits of dialogue, and direct acknowledgements to 1990’s films were packed into this script.
The closest high school-based films that had so much dialogue creativity in them in recent years were Rian Johnson‘s Brick (Brick (2005) Film Review) and Brett Simon‘s Assassination of a High School President (Assassination of a High School President (2008) Film Review). Fortunately for the two former films, all the faults that plagued Detention were non-existent in them. With Brick and Assassination of a High School President, the viewer wanted to see what would happen next, how the overall situation was resolved. In Detention, first the viewer wanted the brilliance of the beginning recaptured then once they realized it wouldn’t be, they wanted the film to end and sat through the remainder of the plodding plot to attain that goal.
The beginning of Detention housed its strongest act, its sturdiest scenes while the third act housed its weakest.
The film started out audaciously with a girl named Taylor Fisher (Alison Woods), the epitome of a spoiled brat (Q in female flesh). Like Mattie Ross in True Grit (True Grit (2010) Film Review), Fisher never varnished her opinions about others and it was hilarious to hear her tell people off, even the person that literally brought her into the world (F*** a Duck!). Colors and thoughts from her mind were splashed onto the walls of her brief scenes in Detention. The film’s excellent art design, wardrobe, and lighting (the film was lush and vibrant because of these departments’ fastidious efforts) began with her scenes and continued for the entire film. In no other scenes in Detention were visual lists used or the social/communication eco-sphere of the teen world referenced so well.
Taylor Fisher, her attitude toward others, and her micro-world should have been carried over into the remainder of the film but were (Spoiler) sacrificed via the classic (?) Scream beginning. The Detention‘s writers effectively killed off the most interesting person in the film in its first ten minutes. The first time this happened in Scream it was new and inventive: no one expected Drew Barrymore to get killed in the film’s opening. Everyone assumed she was the star of the film but Scream changed this assumption, it changed the game. Detention killed a girl at the beginning of the film who was basically an unknown so her murder did nothing for the plot or the viewer’s expectations for the remainder of the film. (End Spoiler) The murder was gruesome but also sort of funny and pointless.
The other characters in Detention couldn’t have cared less about her murder (her personality the culprit), even with their tenuous school attachment to her, so the viewer felt no need to either. This lack of attachment to the on-screen characters carried over for the rest of the film.
Though the characters lacked depth, Detention had one of the most ambitious and creative opening credit sequences the viewer has probably ever seen splattered over the inner machinations and morning rituals of Grizzly Lake high school.
That creativity was not present in a good way when it came to the film’s plot. Detention‘s biggest flaw was the film’s (Spoiler) time travel plotline: Detention lacked a strong narrative and it was a disservice to the colorful and resplendent accoutrements that surrounded it.
The viewer watched the time travel storyline evolve and rather than making the film more substantial, it made it weaker. Richard Kelly‘s Donnie Darko is a far better example of an intelligent time travel and horror film in a high school setting. The reason for time travel in Detention was idiotic even for a comedy and all of the padding placed onto it in the second and third act of the film did nothing to ameliorate it. (End Spoiler) The viewer watched mediocre plot point after mediocre plot point play out on-screen.
Even with its genuinely humorous moments, once the viewer got through Detention‘s colorful toppings, they realized there was very little underneath the surface: “more style than substance” or as Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell)’ put it: “You’re more concept than reality”. The former accusation was also levied against Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez‘s Sin City when it premiered but in Detention‘s case, it was actually true.