Judge Paul Pritchard would like to remind you that pregnant teenagers are never funny.
"This is probably the best movie since Volcano!"
"Did you know more kids were conceived to Oasis than any other Beatles cover band?"
Facts of the Case
The teens of Grizzly Lake high school find their lives at risk when Cinderhella, a slasher movie killer come to life, begins killing them one by one. As the body count grows, so do suspicions about the real identity of the killer.
Hoping to get to the bottom of the killings, the school principle (Dane Cook, Dan in Real Life) rounds up a bunch of suspects that includes school nerd Riley (Shanley Caswell) and the object of her affection, Clapton (Josh Hutcherson, Journey 2: The Mysterious Island), and places them in detention. However, nothing is quite what it seems in the town of Grizzly Lake, and if a serial killer wasn't enough to contend with, the kids soon realize that the very fate of the world rests in their hands…if only they can get out of Detention.
On initial inspection Detention, the latest movie from Torque director Joseph Kahn, seems unsure of exactly what it wants to be. Combining horror, comedy, time travel, and science fiction, it is a complete and utter mess—but, oh, what a glorious, refreshing, and downright likable mess it is. It's possible that Kahn, and writing partner Mark Palermo simply had too many ideas for one feature, yet felt obligated to shoehorn them all in for fear that this would be their last shot at making a movie. Just as likely is that in the swift changes of tone and styles exhibited by their film, Kahn and Palermo have crafted a picture that perfectly mimics the modern teenager for whom trends come and go faster than Usain Bolt.
Detention opens with a fantastically funny turn from Alison Woods (Superhero Movie) as queen bitch Taylor Fisher. In just a few minutes, Taylor informs us of the rules of high school, in a sequence that sees Palermo's script absolutely sparkle. This short prologue also informs the viewer of the quirkiness that the rest of the film will follow, as characters frequently talk to the audience, and onscreen graphics serve to provide extra giggles.
The insanity of the film—and I'd argue that any film where the school bully is apparently undergoing a bizarre mutation while one schoolgirl is pregnant with her future self can be considered insane—is tempered by the wit of the script and the fantastic performances from its young cast. Josh Hutcherson, who seems to be popping up everywhere right now, is in fine form as the literally too cool for school Clapton Davis who earns the ire of school bully Billy Nolan which requires him to invoke the spirit of Patrick Swayze. Trust me, it kind of makes sense. Stealing the film, however, is Shanley Caswell as Riley Jones. Caswell displays remarkable comic timing, and gives a voice to the class underdog. The other standout performance comes from Dane Cook. Cook revels in the insanity, and his Principal Verge is a wonderful creation that is worthy of a large audience.
It's inevitable that Detention will draw comparisons to Wes Craven's Scream franchise. To his credit, Kahn tackles such comparisons head-on. Besides Scream, Detention is full of references to the nineties in general, leaving me laughing out loud and also realizing that I'm getting old. Thankfully these references are not all that Detention has to offer. Although it might lift ideas left, right, and center, it still has a unique voice. Kahn and Palermo's writing might grab one's attention due to its self-referential smarts, but it is the small moments that shed light on the struggles of one's teenage years that really stick.
Despite being sold as a slasher movie, Detention could only be considered a slasher in the very loosest sense. Yes, there is a killer on the loose, but this is really only a framing device for the insanity to reside in, and only comes into play when completely necessary.
With Detention, director Kahn has delivered an undeniably attractive picture. Though the flash visuals do on occasion recall his music video past, they never distract from the onscreen events, and suit the tone of the movie perfectly. Kahn's visuals are recreated beautifully on Sony's DVD release of Detention. Strong, bold colors are immediately eye-catching. The standard definition 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen picture is razor sharp and loaded with detail. The Dolby 5.1 Surround mix is also excellent. Dialogue is clear, and there's a nice balance to the mix, which really comes alive when the nineties-tinged soundtrack kicks in.
The DVD release of Detention contains just the one special feature, but fear not, it's brilliant. "Cheat Mode: The Unbelievably Mind Melting Making of Detention" is basically an all-singing, all-dancing commentary track. As the movie plays, members of the cast and crew pop up on screen to discuss the making of the film. Complementing these interviews is behind-the-scenes footage and production stills that appear in windows around the movie.
Considering the drubbing Joseph Kahn took for his previous movie, Torque, it took real balls to come back with something as bold and as out there as Detention. There are moments where it runs the risk of falling into Scary Movie territory, but thankfully manages to pull itself back from the brink thanks to an intelligence so frequently seen in its peers. The film moves at breakneck speed, and never once pauses to catch its breath. It is funny, well-written, occasionally profound, and so likeable that its flaws somehow work in its favor. This is confident stuff, and Kahn should be applauded for it.
Cult favorite status surely beckons.
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