Your high school on Skittles and Red Bull
‘Detention” is all sugar and smirks and OMGs. It’s like someone beat a piñata until it rained texts and blogs, MTV and energy drink. The whole thing is set at a 2011 high school and conducts itself as high school movies do: in desperate need of attention.
For 20 minutes, it’s one of the worst movies I’ve ever seen. The kids’ acting is pitchy. The camera does a lot of coked-up pinballing. The writing seems to have been ripped from a “Party of Five” translator before it was done processing. The scenes are all belched up from some Korean-Bollywood daydream of a Southern California anywhere. It’s neon and Day-Glo and exploded boxes of synthetic breakfast cereal. It’s an exclamation point – but sideways. Have you seen a sideways exclamation point? It’s a bat.
All the better to be beaten into submission by Joseph Kahn, who directed and co-wrote this movie and happens to be Korean-American and, beginning in the early 1990s, happens to have made an indigestible number of melt-in-your-mouth music videos.
Once upon a time, MTV had a feature called a rock block, in which it played a bunch of clips by a single artist. “Detention” is a Joseph Kahn rock block. Being forced to submit to it is like being assaulted by a bag of Skittles. But, eventually, a kind of clarity sets in – for us. The movie itself is never truly clear. If it’s also never intentionally bad, its unintentional badness keeps blasting into shockingly clever places.
This is ostensibly a prom-bound tangle of freaks and geeks. (The cast includes Josh Hutcherson, Spencer Locke, Shanley Caswell, Aaron David Johnson, Marque Richardson, and Principal Dane Cook). So-and-so likes such-and-such and on-and-on. But Kahn and his co-writer, Mark Palermo, toss in a 1992-bound time machine built inside an enormous animatronic bear; a bullying jock who’s also part housefly; a school-massacre detour; and a “Scream”/“Saw” horror-farce called “Cinderhella” that basically explains how a Lady Gaga slasher franchise would go. The kids wind up having to go back three decades in order to save themselves from themselves.
It’s too much. A second helping might actually trigger an overdose. Eventually, the genres pile up, the sugar goes out of the surprise, and the rock hits a block. Everything about this movie seems to happen at the last minute. Yet, for a disarming stretch, whatever Kahn is trying to get out of his system really gets into ours.