DVD Review: DETENTION

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Release date: July 31st

DETENTION is a horror-comedy from director Joseph Kahn, based on a script he co-wrote with Mark Palermo. When someone dressed as cinema horror villain Cinderhella begins killing high school students, its down to clumsy vegetarian Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell) and the optimistic, popular Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson) to save their futures and everyone’s lives, if they can escape a lengthy Saturday detention the runs through prom. Then, add into the mix a time-traveling bear, a boy with fly blood in his veins, the hint of a 90’s teen movie, and some alien intrigue for good measure.

The film makes a strange sort of sense as long as you don’t poke and prod too hard at the plot as it would only prove a painful task that requires delving into the logistics and repercussions of space travel and the goals of extraterrestrials. No, thank you. The terror of Cinderhella is a recurring conflict throughout, but it gets little screen time compared to the teen drama, stories of side characters, and time-traveling mayhem. While there are elements of horror, don’t expect to be scared. It’s best to revel in the quick quips and wealth of pop culture references to which the plot seems secondary and dependent. Parody and satire reign supreme, with some scenes that are amazingly perfect and others than miss the mark entirely. In an odd way, the film itself mirrors the chaos of high school and the constant bombardment of a technology obsessed society where everything is instant and information always within reach, especially when the two collide. A second viewing is likely a good idea as all of the jokes and references aren’t possible to glean from a single screening. The first time around attention is likely to be absorbed in trying to figure out the relationship between all the characters–which becomes clear throughout–and the overall story–which is, well, not as clear. This original comedy moves beyond the ranks of forgettable parodies despite the chaotic plot due to its strong cast, on-point humor, and an entertaining, if occasionally confusing, story.

In the beginning, Riley tells Clapton, “You’re more concept than reality.” It’s a statement that seems just as true to the film itself. The characters are all exaggerated versions of reality, but are brought to life by strong acting and excellent comedic timing. Riley is a depressed teen with a wry sense of humor that seems doomed to always fall into the most awkward scenarios and is harboring a secret love for her neighbor Clapton. She is left to fend off the advances of geeky classmate and Clapton’s sidekick Sanders Sanderson (Aaron David Johnson). Clapton is a neon-clad skateboarder that is everyone’s friend and is in danger of failing to graduate barring an A or a saving the world. Caswell and Hutcherson are charismatic and fantastic as the two leads, infusing the characters with enough distinct personality and genuine emotion that they move beyond their deliberate near-stereotypical personas to make them as intriguing as they are funny. Johnson is amusing and vaguely off-putting as Sanders, making the role flow perfectly, and Dane Cook is another great addition to the cast as the bitter high school principal.

There is a curious fixation on the 90s (with numerous late 80’s references, as well) with a mix of pop culture references and what seems to be the popular crowd’s perception of what they think the 90s looked like. Clapton’s prom date Ione (Spencer Locke) is a walking reference to 90s culture, while Clapton tries to learn how to fight by watching Swayze in ROAD HOUSE. As I don’t think the 90s have quite hit a resurgence, the references are all the more entertaining since they’re not as commonly seen. This makes the 90s fixation seem a deliberate play on the current 80s obsessions off-screen. It’s a uniquely current film about this decade that appears at almost any given moment to be stuck in the 90’s, if the 90’s had iPhones. It’s a decade that is fond to those who grew up there, which is now coincidentally a large group of the technologically-devoted, iPhone-obsessed crowd that the movie pokes fun at. The wealth of satiric pop culture references that make you aware of how much of the 90’s has its claws in you and if it doesn’t, then this movie might not be as appealing.

DETENTION is ambitious as hell, which pays off in parts and ends in confusion in others. Overall, it’s a whirlwind of insanity that’s sure to leave some questioning what they just watched and others basking in its brilliance. The lightning fast pace, frequent changes in direction, and strange plot will be part of the smart, witty appeal to some, and part of the reason for dislike to others. There are those who will simply love it, those who will benefit from a second viewing, and those who will simply never like nor understand it. The movie itself will likely develop a devoted cult-following, and I’ll be in that group, but the movie has its flaws and its appeal is mainly dependent on its humor which will most assuredly not appeal to everyone. Yet, if it did, it wouldn’t be the hilarious, awesome balance of parody and satire that it is.

Kristen Micek