Detention Directed by: Joseph Kahn Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Shanley Caswell, Dane Cook Running Time: 1 hr 29 mins Rating: R Release Date: April 13, 2012 (Chicago)
PLOT: After a horror movie-inspired serial killer slashes someone on their campus, a group of suspect high school seniors (Hutcherson, Caswell) are put into detention during prom night.
WHO'S IT FOR?: Detention is the new Sermon on the Mount/Gettysburg Address/Kanye West twitter feed for the high schooler frustrated by everyone's desire to label or be labeled, or to wear the coolest clothes without any sense of honest expression. To say this is for the "outsider" is too general; this is for the social outsider who doesn't care about fitting in. As for those who made it out of high school, there is still much to enjoy with Detention as well. If you like highly involving unique film experiences that push their cinematic bounds, don't cheat yourself out of a great treat.
EXPECTATIONS: I've seen Detention before ... 13 months ago. In this second round of re-viewing, I decided I wouldn't refer to my old write-up at all, but go in as fresh as possible. Thus, I was very curious as to how this movie would hold up to my original positive feelings. Was this movie going to lose some of its magic in a second viewing? Was I going to have to force myself to like it this time?
Josh Hutcherson as Clapton Davis: Clapton is a cool rebel, but he's not the jerk. He's like Marty McFly if Marty were popular, (which certainly makes his on-screen nemesis Nolan very Biff-like). Hutcherson brings a confident suave to the role, and is game for all of the wild events that Detention throws him into. Even without the Hunger Games attention he brings to this character, he would be a compelling surrogate of the Detention experience. Score: 6
Shanley Caswell as Riley Jones: Detention focuses a great amount on Riley's character, and Caswell can handle it. She's got the fastest and sharpest mouth in the movie, along with most of the angst. Riley is a great character for this movie to use as its home base, and Caswell doesn't falter in making her someone whose drama we simply want to care about. Score: 7
Dane Cook as Principal Verge: It has finally happened. The once colossally bro-verrated comedian Dane Cook has found a role that puts his shtick of a fast moving mouth and obnoxious d-bag attitude to good use - a bitter school principal. Cook is rarely here to tell jokes (aside from a "teen mom" mini-lecture in the beginning), and he's villainous and amusing as the movie's one strong character of authority and youthful chaos; a man ultimately imprisoned by a school calendar's perpetuity. Score: 6
TALKING: The machine gun dialogue of Detention is fired by its teenagers at a speed that parallels Facebook chat repartee, with no line getting swallowed by the movie's wild audio mixing. Interactions between characters are like drag races, something that makes each scene blaze by at Torque speeds (regardless of whatever is going on visually in the film). These whippersnappers certainly whip and snap with lines like "Does this sound f**king 'PG-13 to you?" or "Sting is the the Bruno Mars of 1993." Score: 8
SIGHTS: Start to finish, Detention can only be described as an aesthetic wunderhaus. The film goes down the list of every cut and shot in the book, giving itself a distinctive visual flare just in its technique alone. With his presentation of a unique high school with highly unique students, Kahn makes a striking choice to use lens flares, and to consistently shoot this movie with time-less lighting that resembles what Terrence Malick would call "the magic hour." On-screen text speaks directly to the audience on many occasions, with more purpose than cuteness. Like the rest of the visuals of Detention, they are bold and an absolute thrill to witness. Score: 9
SOUNDS: For the most part, Detention associates itself with bands like Goldfrapp that haven't entirely lost their hipness to MTV-like audiences. The film constantly uses modern tunes to audibly compliment its urgently contemporary aesthetics. Popular songs from the past, which range from "Mmbop" to "Gonna Make You Sweat," are used in precise moments to be worth more than a retro giggle. Score: 7
BEST SCENE: With a movie as wild and entertaining as Detention, it's tough to pick just one moment that best captures its wit and style. If I had to choose just one, I'd say that Elliott Fink's flashback is pretty great in how it pinpoints each year to a certain trend and a style of music. It doesn't just throw in clothes as an amused flashback, but offer a succinct idea of where we were pop culturally in a single year.
ENDING: Detention rounds up its wild genre-hopping third act with a message that explains the ultimate point that the film is all about: high school is not the end of the world.
QUESTIONS: How will this movie hold up, even in five years' time? Did director Kahn change anything from when he first premiered this at SXSW last year? Where would this movie be without the inclusion of Hunger Games star Josh Hutcherson? What distribution would it have then?
REWATCHABILITY: It turns out a second viewing made me love Detention even more. I can't imagine my admiration for the fast-moving Detention would go down in multiple viewings.
Blah blog blah yes, Josh Hutcherson looks hipster handsome in his multi-colored shirts and sleek sunglasses. He does some hand-to-hand combat too. But for all you fans of The Hunger Games looking to feast on more glimpses of the man now known as Peeta (and not Peter, I guess), there's an even bigger star to this completely unique genre-hopping madhouse. That dude is Joseph Kahn.
You might remember his 2004 motorcycle movie Torque (he certainly does, with too much self-deprecation). In the same lifetime, Kahn also dedicated an entire lengthy blog post to responding to critic Jim Emerson's video essay which aimed to call out some editing flubs and stumbles in The Dark Knight. Now averting his passion to his second feature film, Kahn's dedication to every centimeter of this movie (that he apparently financed himself) shows that visually he's got the power of a hipster Michael Bay, but mentally he functions at full brain gusto as a striking indie filmmaker who actually has some interesting things to say. For many reasons, and also for his resilience against party-pooper producers, Kahn is a zeitgeist-tuned force to be reckoned with (or at least, he deserves to be one).
Kahn knows teenagers, and with his movie Detention, he doesn't dare to bullsh*t them. He recognizes their angst and respects their attention spans, giving them a whole new story and colorful character to chew on every five minutes or so. There's no "high school symposium" attitude when it comes to presenting teen behaviors, from vulgar texting to pill popping to being the school cooz. Detention may be visually glossy, but its attitude is absolutely and gloriously raw. In comparison, it makes something like Project X, a heavily produced orgy of teen shenanigans, look like a toolshed box social paid for by lame rich dads. Kahn knows that it's not ultimately popularity that teenagers really want in high school - they just want to make it out alive.
Detention is packaged like a Hollywood movie, if Tinseltown productions still had cojones. With each passing scene Detention gets bigger and crazier, until its eventually talking about time travel, action movie heroes, slashers, and TV hands in the same sentence. And as it immerses audiences into these mix-and-match delights of dark comedy, horror, and science fiction, Detention displays extreme self-awareness for everything that it's trying to do. Just as Kahn is sure to throw in at least two personal digs to himself in the script, Detention provides great intellectual comfort because it knows itself inside and out. Even when the third act seems like a brain aneurysm waiting to happen, Detention is an immersing experience your full attention wants to be kidnapped by.
While it makes "references" to certain chapters of high school movies like The Breakfast Club and Heathers, it should be noted that Detention offers some of the most brilliant depictions of the entirely miserable, unforgettable, and completely screwed up experience of being a high schooler. The movie's wild imagination as applied to certain back-stories of characters (Nolan, or former BFFs Ione and Riley) provides hilarious lampooning of the type of drama that becomes so exaggerated in the throes of adolescence. Many of the movie's ridiculous events take place with this intention - to show how silly and minimal the BS is that teens can fill their lives with every day. (Instead, this movie encourages its audience to be like itself: full of ideas, and with extreme awareness as to what the hell is going on around them). Through its many, many loopy elements, the most surprising aspect of Detention is likely how meaningful it all is. This is ultimately why the movie's sign-off, though a phrase tried and true, is such a The Raid: Redemption-style kick in the genitals (especially because wimpy documentary Bully is too much of a sissy pants to say it): "It's just high school. It's not the end of the world."
FINAL SCORE: 8/10