A labyrinthine but not impenetrable bubble gum pop explosion, "Detention" should earn major "cult hit" status if for no other reason than for its fierce, unflinching juggling of genres and conventions. Is it a straight-up slasher pic, or a send-up of bloody slice-and-dicers? Is it a reference-heavy teen satire or a sobering coming-of-age wake-up call to today's technologically advanced but increasingly impersonal "newer-faster-now" culture? Or maybe it's simply a corkscrew-laden time-travel comedy wrapped up in a lot of flash, pizzazz, and a murderous horror movie villain by the name of Cinderhella who has come fatally to life. Indeed, the film does not fit into any easily defined boxes and plays squarely by its own rules. Quick-witted enough to cause whiplash in the unprepared and infirm, writer-director Joseph Kahn (2004's "Torque
") and co-writer Mark Palermo ensure that a single viewing won't do; to really get a handle on all that "Detention" lobs at you, this is one case that practically screams out for a second visit. Whether a return trip to the ADD-riddled town of Grizzly Lake will improve one's opinion or call attention to said film's ambitious failings is another matter altogether, up to everyone to decide.
When popular, well-liked (read: stuck-up, envied and hated) classmate Taylor Fisher (Alison Woods) is brutally murdered, rumor has it that a psychopath is on the loose around Grizzly Lake High School. Most of the student body are too involved in themselves to notice, but suicidal outcast Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell) suddenly finds a couple reasons to live when she becomes the killer's next target and simultaneously catches the eye of soulful, skateboarding, oh-so-cool Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson). With all of the possible suspects placed in weekend detention on the same day as prom night, Riley, Clapton, '90s-obsessed cheerleader Ione (Spencer Locke), loner-with-a-crush Sander Sanderson (Aaron David Johnson), and the rest of the rag-tag group are faced with fingering the culprit and righting the wrongs of the past as a means of stopping no less than the impending end of the world.
"Detention" gives new meaning to the "everything but the kitchen sink" adage, intermixing all of the above with the coinciding theatrical release of "Cinderhella II," reported UFO sightings, the occasional breaking of the fourth wall, and the school's mascot, a taxidermic grizzly bear who can transport students back in time in its hollow stomach. It's an overstuffed but ridiculously fun and gleefully original concoction. If it spends so much time being clever that it never quite lives up to the meaningful emotional core it's aiming for, that's the one notable shortcoming in a film that races a mile a minute to keep up with the twenty-first century's populist culture of spoiled, instantaneous satisfaction. From the knock-out first-scene murder of "Hoobastank" victim Taylor Fisher leading right into the crafty opening credits that appear on walls, shoes, even urinal cakes as cinematographer Christopher Probst introduces all the central characters passing through the lockered hallways of GLHS, "Detention" refuses to settle down.
Encyclopedic references spanning from present day all the way back through the '80s (with a particular fascination with 1992 for good reasons yet to be uncovered) come fast and furioushey, is that an instrumental version of Hanson's "mmmBOP?"in a whirlwind of pop-culture history. "You're as funny as Bronson Pinchot!" the time-warped Ione tells her gym coach Mr. Cooper (James Black). Forever stuck in a '90s mind-frame, she describes Clapton as "all that and a bag of chips," and compares the moralistic undercurrents of "Cinderhella II" with those found in disaster movie "Volcano." Meanwhile, Clapton may be physically smaller than bully Billy Nolan (Parker Bagley), but with moves he's learned from studying "Road House""the power of Swayze," as he calls themhe just might come out on top. As one can already imagine, there is a lot going on in "Detention," to the point where some viewers may forget they're watching a horror movie at heart. There is a terrific outdoor chase through Riley's neighbors' backyards when Cinderhella attacks, but by and large the film just isn't focused enough to earn substantial scares. It works better, then, as a comment on teenage life in 2011 shredded with the nostalgia of 1980s John Hughes angst and early-1990s cinematic garishness.
The supporting cast looks more colorful than their underwritten personalities suggest, but the central protagonists are a different story. Josh Hutcherson (2012's "The Hunger Games
"), also serving as an executive-producer for the first time, is an awesome Clapton Davis, the epitome of what's hot as he steadfastly plays to his own drum, has seemingly invented his own neon fashion sense, and still remains sensitive at the end of the day. He and newcomer Shanley Caswell, as lead heroine Riley Jones, make for a cute pair right down to their eclectic and unexpected prom dance. Caswell is immensely likable besides, playing a girl who feels hopelessly downtrodden but also has too much verve for life to go through with her own planned demises. Countering her perfectly is Spencer Locke (2010's "Resident Evil: Afterlife
") as the spunky, snobby Ione, her love of eras gone by serving as her most blessed redeeming quality. And finally, Dane Cook (2007's "Good Luck Chuck
") plays things mostly straight as hard-nosed Principal Verge, a former star student of Grizzly Lake harboring a possible grudge.
"It's just high school, it's not the end of the world," someone says at the end of "Detention," and it rings true. Teenagers, so absorbed in their own here-and-now, can never seem to look beyond their latest personal crises. In high school, everything feels like the be-all-end-all of existence when, let's get real, it isn't. It's a lesson kids would be wise to learn. The levity that shines through in "Detention" is due to the auspicious density of Joseph Kahn's and Mark Palermo's screenplay, the kids' fight for survival against Cinderhella little more than symbolic of their respective struggles to retain individuality and compassion in a society bred in apathy. Had the rapid pacing been allowed to slow down, however, there might have been further room to make a dramatic impact. As detail-oriented as the picture is, it only scratches the surface of its characters and their immediate plight. What "Detention" is never lacking in is go-for-broke gumption. With every movie more or less a retread of what's come before, here is one that's its own vibrant entity, take it or leave it.