PLOT: A serial killer modeling him or herself after a slasher-movie character is going to work on the too-cool-for-school kids of Grizzly Lake. Meanwhile, about 800 other subplots rage on...
REVIEW: What do you get when you combine late-90s nostalgia, a self-aware slasher movie, a high school comedy where the kids talk with such pseudo-hip irony that Diablo Cody would roll her eyes and a director known for Britney Spears/Backstreet Boys music videos and the so-bad-its-good TORQUE? You get DETENTION, the movie equivalent of a teenager jacked up on Red Bull telling you the craziest “OMG you won't believe what just happened!” story that spirals out of control halfway through. It's an insanely hyper, spazzed-out concoction that contains more references that all four SCREAM movies combined, with ideas that come so fast and furious that it's like someone is flipping channels within the film. It's HEATHERS for the ADD generation.
The story is familiar on the surface: A killer dressed as a famous movie villain (CinderHella!) is knocking people off at Grizzly Lake High School, which is inhabited by your standard array of jocks, mean girls, hipster dorks, wallflowers and weirdos. Our protagonists include Riley (Shanley Caswell), one of the not-cool kids who of course is pretty cool, her crush Clapton (Josh Hutcherson, who also executive-produced) a skater who is friends with everybody, except for lunk-head football player (Parker Bagley), who wants to fight Clapton for the affections of chipper dumb blonde Ione (Spencer Locke). As their little dramas play out, they all become suspects in the Fake CinderHella killings, especially in the eyes of their principal (a predictably smirking Dane Cook).
As is to be expected from a film directed by someone with Kahn's resume (he must easily have 100 music videos to his credit), DETENTION is so in-your-face with its quirky, sugar-high delivery that it's impossible to keep up with it. You can hardly take a breath when the movie is zig-zagging through scene after scene of pop culture references, look-at-me visual tricks (the screen is often littered with text, title cards and other distractions) and a plot so goofily complicated that it often feels like it's being written on the spot by ten different people; time-travel, body-swapping, UFOs and a ticking-clock bomb all eventually figure into the proceedings, and you just become numb to it all after a while. Maybe I'm getting old, but I don't want to have to inhale a pile of cocaine in order to be on a movie's wavelength.
To be fair, the film occasionally provides a chuckle. Some of the references are just random enough to garner points (FLED, for the love of god, gets a shout-out, while ROADHOUSE, Frank Whaley and Kahn's own TORQUE are mentioned in humorous ways), and a few ideas are out-there inspired (one flashback about a student's hidden alien DNA is a jaw-dropping WTF?! sequence). Kahn and screenwriter Mark Palermo's bravado in their kitchen-sink approach, while exhausting, has to be given a pat on the back; the film commits to its schtick to the dizzying end, and if you're able to catch every single thing it throws at you (though it might take more than one viewing), you could end up admiring its tenacity. The movie works hard for your acceptance.
There's also nothing wrong with the cast, as all participants work hard and prove themselves to be likable screen presences. Caswell in particular, as the tomboyish Riley, makes an impression, dishing out various quips and one-liners as swiftly as they're given to her -most of them aren't actually funny (can't even tell if they're supposed to be at this point), but she sells it.
At the end of the day, like some of its characters, DETENTION suffers from trying too hard. Like a kid who wants to be cool, it puts on a show for attention while acknowledging it's all a joke, just in case the display falls flat. You can put on sunglasses and dress like the cool kids, but that doesn't make you cool.