Directed by Joseph Kahn
Written by Joseph Kahn and Mark Palermo
Starring: Josh Hutcherson, Shanley Caswell, Dane Cook
I have no idea what I just watched… I also don’t think I hated it.
This review is going to require some soul searching. I’m not even sure I can describe what Detention is without sounding like a lunatic off his meds. There are practically seventeen plots in this film (blink and you might miss one), all contrived, all genre specific, and all done with tongue firmly imbedded in cheek. Does that mean it’s a satire? Umm, I think so…
I’m not entirely sure because even though it’s absolutely a satire, it’s earnestly put together with style and an ADD approach to pace. I don’t even know if that makes sense.
Let me start over...
Detention, written and directed by Joseph Kahn (co-written by Mark Palermo ), is the story of Riley and Clapton, two high school seniors on opposite ends of the social strata. Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson) is inexplicably the coolest kid at Grizzly Lake High School, sporting neon yellow aviator sunglasses and skateboarding in the halls. Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell) is a sometimes-suicidal, overalls-wearing, vegetarian feminist who is just looking for another cause to get behind. Already, our heroes are obvious amalgams of every teen movie stereotype. What’s oddly refreshing is that everyone behind and in front of the camera is aware and comments on it directly.
Alright, so there’s this movie within the movie about a deformed prom queen killer called Cinderhella. The sequel is about to come out and there’s this real killer who is knocking off the students of Grizzly Lake by wearing a Cinderhella mask. *coughcoughScreamcough* So that’s happening.
There’s also some students that are way too informed about 1992 pop culture which may or may not have to do with mind-swapping, time traveling bears, aliens, and wishing on shooting stars. Did I mention the kid with a TV for a hand and fly blood in his veins? Or the Patrick Swayze versus Steven Segal debacle? Oh, and Dane Cook is the principal. Ugh, my head hurts- but in a good way, like an ice cream headache.
Just as interesting as the movie is the story of its inception. Joseph Kahn, a prolific music video director in the early 2000s made quite the splash with his feature directorial debut, Torque (2004). Torque is the story of crotch-rocket daredevils doing things on bikes and there are bad guys and lots of quick cut editing. Universally panned, it was a financial failure and the butt of many jokes. Torque represented the end of that MTV era of film-making with whip-fast cameras and excessive CGI stuntmen (or did it, Fast & Furious Part 12!?)
After the epic failure of Torque (personally, it’s the kind of movie that is what it is and I don’t mind it), Kahn wasn’t particularly a hot commodity anymore. He stood by the film because he delivered what he wanted to, an over the top movie. People just didn’t get it (including the studio that promoted it). Facing the possibility of never getting the opportunity to make another movie, he decided to write/fund/produce/direct one himself. Because this new endeavor was a labor of love and may be a one-time thing, he threw reservations out the window and included every genre under the sun. What resulted is a high energy, schizophrenic, action packed, post-modern, science fiction, fever dream of a high school comedy called Detention.
Immediately upon it ending, I was taken aback and didn’t feel any affection for it. I think I liked it. Since that first viewing four days ago, I’ve revisited the movie three times (once just to watch the last half hour). I think I like it. I think I like it a lot. It’s so bad it’s good, but so good you don’t think it’s very good at first. But, it sticks with you. It’s like witnessing something with incredible speed. In the moment, your brain can barely process it. Upon reflection, your mind begins to fill in the gaps and flesh out the chain of events. Yeah… that probably sums it up the best.
I optimistically recommend Detention with the pessimism in mind that not everyone will take away from it what I did. I was able to appreciate the controlled chaos on screen where nothing was sacred. Not everyone’s brain is wired the same, which is fine. Movies are subjective… that’s why you’re reading a review.