It may look like a giant mess, but missing out on this would mean depriving yourself of one of the year’s most entertaining films.
Joseph Kahn, who is well-known as the director of Torque, comes back to filmmaking after seven years with Detention. If anything, Detention could be seen as a second chance for Kahn to prove himself as a capable director after the disastrous reception Torque received. Luckily, Detention (which Kahn funded entirely by himself) is a huge success, and should hopefully break Kahn out of director’s jail.
The film opens with a popular girl waking up for school and telling the camera everything about ‘being cool’ within minutes. The scene, which is filled with so many pans, zooms, jump cuts and on-screen text, starts to feel overwhelming even before the girl is murdered by a masked serial killer. Afterward we meet the ‘loser’ Riley (Shanley Caswell) and popular kid Clapton (Josh Hutcherson) who are having problems on their own. Trying to explain what their problems are would be a waste of time as Detention’s storyline is a revolving door. Shane and Riley’s friends Ione (Spencer Locke) and Sander (Aaron David Johnson) get into the mix, and before anyone realizes this teen slasher suddenly branches off into dozens of different directions.
Kahn more or less goes through a checklist of every teen movie staple he can think of, from dance competitions to time travel to Freaky Friday body-swaps to the Breakfast Club style weekend detention that gives the film its title. There’s almost no time to recover from each moment as Kahn immediately moves on to another genre while piling more details on top of the film’s convoluted plot. By the time one character reveals he’s part fly (along with a lengthy flashback explaining his story) everything has gone so far off the rails that the scene gels in perfectly with everything that came before it.
It’s Detention’s pure lunacy that ends up making it such an exciting film. Kahn uses almost every stylistic trick he can think of to match the sensory overload of the main characters’ lives while dripping everything in as many layers of self-awareness as he can. This is the kind of movie where the school’s principal (Dane Cook, not so convincingly playing against type) can look at the production design credit decorated on one of the school’s walls and casually say “This is ugly.” Detention bombards the audience with its hyper stylized A.D.D. visuals and storyline with a giddy, go-for-broke level of insanity behind it that almost every second is captivating to watch. It feels like Joseph Kahn is stuffing every frame and scene to its breaking point.
Despite the candy-coated exterior, Kahn proves himself to be more than a capable director. The casting is dead-on, with its four main leads actually managing to make their characters feel grounded throughout all of the madness. Shanley Caswell and Josh Hutcherson have an early scene together that shows off more chemistry than almost every other recent teen-oriented movie, and a dance sequence set to Hanson’s “Mmmbop” while referencing Dirty Dancing is more fun than it deserves to be. Like Crank, Speed Racer and more recently Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Detention is a film that thrives in pure excess. It may look like a giant mess, but missing out on this would mean depriving yourself of one of the year’s most entertaining films.