Written by: Joesph Kahn & Mark Palermo
Directed by: Joesph Kahn
I should have known what I was getting myself in to when the poster touted “and DANE COOK” as a selling point for Detention. The only time anyone should ever want to see Dane Cook in a film is if it's of the snuff variety. It's a sad commentary that as far as all of the horrible misfires in Detention, Cook's performance sits roughly in the middle of the pack. Don't get me wrong, his performance as a jaded, student-hating high school principal is still worse that a mouthful of cold sores all bursting open at once. It's just that this vapid, glossy torture-to-watch film gets annoys on so many levels that your forget Cook's even in the film the moment he's off camera.
Blame that magnificent bastard of a film Scott Pilgrim vs. The World for Detention existing. Director and co-writer James Kahn does his best to ape the visual flair and style of that film but comes up with a cheap imitation of the real thing. Where Edgar Wright has a real affinity for the geek culture that allowed audiences to invest in the characters in between the eye popping visuals, Detention is content to cram pop culture references down your pie hole in the shallowest possible way. One gets the idea that Khan simply took crib notes while shotgunning a Saturday afternoon marathon of I Love the 90s and tossed every reference he recognized on to the screen. The film is more than happy to remind you how self aware it is and frequently breaks down the fourth wall to titled asides that explain the backstory about characters you don't give a fuck about.
Detention is like going to the local carnival and gorging yourself on as much cotton candy as possible. It's light, empty calories that never fill you up, and leave you hunched over with stomach cramps wondering “Why the fuck am I eating this?” as you stuff one wispy puff of spun sugar down your throat after another until crashing from a toxic sugar overdose.
The film opens with Taylor, your standard high school hot chick/mean girl addressing the audience her rules to live by which include bulimia on Mondays and Wednesdays. She's the embodiment of everything you hate about teenaged girls and by her third ear splitting shriek about how someone in her family is ruining her life I was mortified that I was going to have to follow this creature on screen for ninety minutes. Moments later she had her throat slashed by Cinderhella-the slasher killer that shows up every so often since in theory this film spoofs horror movies. For the briefest of moments things were looking up.
The problem is every character in the film is painted with the same broad one dimensional brush. We meet our heroine Riley as she wakes up late covered in french fries. She's your brooding, unpopular alternagirl complete with a homemade “This is what a feminist looks like” wife beater tee, a spot on the debate team and wavering commitment to vegetarianism. In short she has “the worst life of anyone ever on the planet”. She's every bit as unrootable for as Taylor, just in a much different way.
Characters don't have dialogue in Detention so much as they shout catch phrases at one another in a manner that suggests Orwell's concept of “Two Minutes Hate” juxtaposed with Jersey Shore stretched out over ninety minutes. The film plays cute by having two characters sitting next to one another text each other rather than talk. There's a meta within meta scene where our teens watch a leaked online work print of a film about a movie where kids watch a bootleg of a movie in order to figure out where the killer might strike next. There's references to the Smurfs, Roadhouse, Kriss Kross, Sting, Luke Perry, and Fraggle Rock for starters. There are homages to The Breakfast Club and a hundred other playing cute moments that just feel heaved onto the screen with no rhyme nor reason as to their inclusion. There's a six minute montage involving a student that's been in detention every day for nineteen years where circling camera pans turn back the calendar to poke fun at the music and fashion of yesteryear that's excruciating to sit through.
Also, for a film so weighted towards style over substance, the CGI work in the kill scenes is unforgivably bad. There's a decapitation and a hacked off arm that would give a SyFy film from the late 90's a run for its money in terms of sheer awfulness. While it's a spoof and the gore is hardly the point, it's unforgivable to put something that poor looking in a finished product.
What's a shame is there are kernels of good ideas here and there. While the plot is bare bones there's a nice pastiche of ideas involving a serial killer ripped straight out of cinemas and a taxidermied grizzly bear that doubles as a time machine, along with body swapping and even aliens. When the third act puts the slightest damper on cramming every moment with a late 80's early 90's reference (and as much as Kahn would like you to believe the early 90's are back, I'm telling you we're not there yet. Believe me, I wish they were and I have the flannel and Superfuzz/Bigmuff vinyl to prove it) it's actually pretty charming,. It it hadn't spent the first hour doing everything inits power to piss me off, it may have one me over.
My first thought upon leaving Detention was I needed to go see Cabin in the Woods first thing in the morning just to wash the awful taste of this film out of my mouth. I've had a nice little run where I've been lucky to see Cabin, John Dies at the End and Some Guy Who Kills People in a short amount of time. These are all films that play with expectations and genre tropes to varying degrees and bring something fresh to the table. Detention desperately wants to be that film but the only knows how to amplify the elements of the films its aping, creating a loud lurching mess of a movie. Avoid at all costs.