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Theatrical Review

Samuel Goldwyn Films ; 93 minutes

Director: Joseph Kahn

Written by on April 10, 2012 

Eight years ago director Joseph Kahn made the critically-despised comedy Torque. His motorcycle joke was not a part of the Fast and Furious meathead-aimed knock-offs, but instead parodied their stupidity. While Torque did feel like it was no different from that genre at times, it was an overall success in its lampooning of that horrid brand of action filmmaking. His latest film, Detention is, somehow, even more manic. Not only does Kahn present the pop-culture of today and the 90s, but also covers every genre imaginable.

From a high school love story to a slasher pic, Detention has it all. There’s the cynical reject Riley (Shanley Caswell), the cool kid Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson), the mindless cheerleader Ione (Spencer Locke), the creepy nerd Sander Sanderson (Aaron David Johnson), and a handful of other stereotypes, which Kahn dutifully deconstructs. They all face daily teenage problems, drama portrayed in the form of a serial killer, lame adults and the apocalypse.

The result itself does not equal Kahn’s ambition. Rather than moving at a propulsive pace, such as something like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, the story spends an excessive amount of time spinning its wheels without moving. Instead of building upon the enticing first act, the structure and pace dissolve into plodding. A few moments, like a continous flashback sequence, are funny and imaginative, but doesn’t add up to anything other than bloated tangents which would entertain as playful short films.

But then, perhaps that’s the point. Maybe Kahn intended for the narrative to represent the aimless style of today’s teenagers: not one genre, messy and all over the map. It’s so bizarre Kahn grasps the quick-pace of what some kids resemble today, and yet the pace of the film doesn’t come close to matching it. Even at 90 minutes, Detention comes off tired before the credits role.

As noted, the film begins promisingly enough, then slowly dwindles down as the story sluggishly moves along. The main complaint the film is bound to draw is, “Nobody acts like this!” The plot, events and side characters are all heightened, and if you don’t buy into that teenage-minded hyper-reality, where everything seems dire, then you’ll loathe every second of Detention.

Kahn’s ambition for Detention calls for recognition. He does only what a select few have: attempt to capture teens of today through style, music and every other tool at his (and their) disposal. The talented music video director has made a film that is never afraid to lose 99% of an audience; a kind of film I felt compelled to watch twice.

Upon first viewing, I was aggravated by a large portion of Detention. At the film’s premiere there was enough love floating around to make me reconsider my reaction. I’ll freely admit I misunderstood Kahn’s original intentions, and I’ve grown to respect the film. Sadly, that said respect does not equal enjoyment. It’s not that too much is going on in Detention, but too little that, like most teen drama, comes off inconsequential. One cannot accuse Kahn’s film of banality, without a doubt. However, one can fault this forward-thinking piece of filmmaking of missing the mark on its lofty goals.

Detention opens in limited release on April 13th.


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