Within five minutes of the start of Joseph Kahn’s DETENTION, you’ll know whether you’re going to embrace its out of control, ridiculously-paced approach to storytelling and genre-bending, or you’re going to hate it for the exact same reasons. Count me in with the latter.
DETENTION, which plays like a movie suffering from ADHD sans Ritalin to keep it under control, can never decide what it wants to be as a film, because it desperately tries to be everything all at the same time. Want an example? At different times, DETENTION dabbles in comedy, horror, sci-fi, the 80s, the 90s, action, time travel, and body switching. It’s like a self-referential trip through teen culture over the past two decades, only there’s no one steady thread to carry you through. You get 50 different lines cast out instead, many of which go nowhere and accomplish nothing, and your brain is left hurting as you make failed attempts to grasp what exactly is going on.
The film follows super bitch Taylor Fisher (Alison Woods)… no, wait… too cool for school Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson)… nope, that’s not it either. How about loser Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell)? It’s quite difficult to say for sure, because, in addition to how quickly it jumps around to satisfy the attention span of an 11 year old, DETENTION unleashes all the identities contained within its multiple personality disorder at once. There is no one person to follow and yet there isn’t really anyone to follow either. The film becomes so flush with side stories and subplots surrounding everyone from the new head cheerleader to the principal to the dude stuck in detention for 11 years that, after awhile, it is as if a bunch of different short stories were just jammed together into one nonsensical collection.
Kahn and co-writer Mark Palermo actually have a knack for witty dialogue that may have made these characters interesting to watch in a far more coherent film, but their efforts in constructing a speak that’s part-meta, part-pop culture junkie are wasted by their inability to pull together any semblance of a plot. Yeah, there’s something that very loosely connects beneath the nods to SCREAM and THE BREAKFAST CLUB, but if you have to dig that hard to find something that half-baked in story, it’s not really worth it. My efforts shouldn’t be greater than the payoff. It’s far less clever than it thinks it is. There’s almost a DAWSON’S CREEK sensibility to how the characters talk – they’re well-written, but you have a hard time buying for one second that people actually talk like this unless their words are being chosen for them.
DETENTION is ambitious in its scope, trying to wedge just about every movie genre known to man into one movie, but, in taking a shot to do so much, the film does very little effectively. It winds up being all over the place, because it lacks any type of focus whatsoever. DETENTION is filled with a lot of clutter, bombarding you with a ton of information that doesn’t mean much in the overall scheme of things meant to distract you from the fact that there’s not much substance lying beneath the style of it all.
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