“Detention” is an absurd, obnoxious, flaming hot mess of a movie. The director, Joseph Kahn (who’s done mostly small music documentaries) thinks he’s making a clever satire about teenagers and pop culture but instead its overly confusing, jumbled, agitating and too much to handle.
The direction is chaotic and slightly queasy. The camera zips and zooms around from character to character and one zany, random scenario after another. I feel like, while making this movie, Kahn was on a diet that consisted of nothing but energy drinks, candy and speed pills.
There. That felt good to get off my chest.
Perhaps I’m missing the point. As I said, he’s making a movie that is mostly making fun of teenagers so I guess his direction is so frantic because that’s the way the mind of a teenager works. We eat junk food, we have short attention spans, and we’re on our smart phones all the time, constantly checking Twitter or Facebook. We have big egos and mouth off to our parents, acting like we own the place. That essentially sums up every character in the movie.
“Detention” takes place in a fictional place called Grizzly Lake, and mainly the interiors of Grizzly Lake high school where we have all our teenager stereotypes. We have Ione (Spencer Locke) the pretty, popular blonde, Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson) the cool, stylish cat who’s so cool he rides his skateboard through the halls of the school. There’s the football jock Billy Nolan (Parker Bagley), the square-o principal played by Dane Cook. And finally there’s Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell) the angst-y smart aleck, who doesn’t fit in with anyone.
Maybe that’s because she feels the need to criticize everyone and make obscure references to pop culture. A common phrase she says is: “That Blank is so Blank”. Charming right? But she’s not the only one who acts like this. Just about every one of the main cast members talk in references. The script by Kahn and Mark Palermo is overflowing with pop culture references. From obvious things like teen slasher movies to really small and random references to things like the Sting song “Fields of Gold.” (What?)
As far as the rest of the movie goes, just take what I’ve already explained and throw in a bizarre plot about a serial killer, aliens, and time travel.
Now, I don’t necessarily have a problem with all of that, I like when a filmmaker can incorporate pop culture into their film, but “Detention” is seriously unfocused. The movie frequently veers off course onto some other random episodic tangent, like a kooky little anecdote showing how the school’s mascot—a stuffed bear---was originally on another planet but was then taken by aliens and put on earth (don’t ask). And instead of trying to get back on path and move the story along it goes on another random tangent. Three tangents later, you’re left wondering what the hell is going on and what all this claptrap is leading to. It’s like Kahn is so scared the audience will get bored unless he always has something happening on the screen.
On top of that the satire is far too obvious. There’s a scene where Riley and another student are having a conversation and midway through they stop and decide to text one another, even though they’re sitting next to each other (get it? Because they’re teenagers, and they like to text). When the characters continually spout cool, hip teen lingo (“thank you 9021-obvious!”) I was reminded of Ellen Paige in “Juno,” a much better teen movie. Instead of trying to go about this material in a fresh way Kahn simply imitates it.
All the actors do the best they can but there’s only so much one can do with poorly written roles. From the moment we meet all of them at the beginning they basically stay the same. There’s no growth, so they stay as caricatures and by the end they all become annoying.
I imagine most teenagers will like “Detention.” Because of YouTube and other places on the Internet where you can find humor, short bursts of random funniness have become all the rave. I admire Kahn’s effort in trying to make a unique movie and it’s fine to have spontaneous, weird humor but it has to add up to something bigger. “Detention” is just weird and random and after about ten/fifteen minutes it becomes cloying instead of interesting.