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College Bored

The Perfect Score adds a neat twist to the heist movie, then bungles it

At times, there appears to be a good movie struggling to get out from within The Perfect Score. The heist genre has been in dire need of a fresh twist for quite some time, and substituting misfit high school students for the usual gang of ex-cons pulling one last job, and the SAT answers for the loot, is a nifty idea. The heist itself is quite nicely filmed here, but unfortunately, getting to it requires sitting through a bunch of noisy, fussy crap. If the filmmakers had exerted as much effort on the script as they did on the elaborate computer-animated end credits (which, by the very nature of being credits at the end, add nothing to the story), a better time could have been had by all.

Any review of this film written by a non-high schooler may miss the point, though. Frankly, those of us for whom the SAT is a distant memory may not find it in our hearts to be all that sympathetic to a bunch of whiny kids afraid to take a test. We may also wonder why an elaborate break-in at the local testing headquarters would be any less daunting than, say, studying. But hey, we're not the target demographic, so what do we know?

"SAT -- suck-ass test, that's what that stands for!" proclaims Roy (Leonardo Nam) at the movie's outset, before introducing us to the cast: Generic White Boys No. 1 and 2 (Chris Evans, Bryan Greenberg), Big Black Athlete (Portland Trail Blazer Darius Miles), Highly Strung Smart Beauty (Erika Christensen) and Rebellious Rich Girl Gone Goth (Scarlett Johansson, once again flaunting her underwear). Roy initially appears to be a bold attempt at an anti-stereotype -- a stupid Asian! -- but alas, it turns out he's really good at math and video games. The rest of the time, he's being Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

And while we're on the subject of '80s teen movies, we might as well note that The Breakfast Clubis also conspicuously name-checked, which serves only to remind anyone with a memory or a VCR/DVD player that you could be watching something better -- it's the visual equivalent of that irritating "Darling Nikki" cover by the Foo Fighters, or 311's tuneless rendition of the Cure's "Love Song." Fittingly enough, the movie's actually funny when it makes reference to more current touchstones, as when Johansson derisively refers to our two white-bread heroes as "Dawson" and "Pacey," or when Roy fantasizes about his ambition to become Blanka, the beast-man character from the Street Fighter games (he's wrong to refer to Blanka as "half-lizard," but never mind).

Anyway, about that good movie struggling to get out. That'd be the one in which the characters would be given room to breathe, and less experienced actors like Greenberg and Miles might have a chance to make more of an impact next to relative thespian heavyweights Johansson and Christensen, or beside the broad caricature embodied by Nam. The perpetually stoned Roy appears to be a favorite with advance audiences, but while he works as a character, the decision to have him narrate the movie is a disastrous one. No doubt it was a call prompted by test screenings, which would be ironic for a movie that argues that test scores are no measure of a person's substance, but there you go. As it stands, some decent character backstory is ruined by speedy music, sloppy editing and Nam's slurred voice-over.

Once the gang actually gets together and infiltrates the corporate tower, things get fun. Director Brian Robbins (Varsity Blues) manages some genuine suspense here, and the character interactions feel real, even though odd groupings of this sort don't usually happen in a cliquish high school environment. It's a little too convenient, and annoying, that the white boys are clearly destined to get the girls while the minorities remain chaste, but it's to the credit of both lead actresses that they make the romances believable.

Occasionally, Matthew Lillard wanders onto the set as if from another movie, acting like a total moron. As Evans's older screwup of a brother, Lillard initially appears to be mentally handicapped, but no one ever actually says he is, or provides any reasonable explanation for his annoying antics. No doubt he's just doing a favor for a friend -- director Robbins also helmed Lillard's Summer Catch -- but his friend might have been more favored by the Scooby-Doo star's absence. Either Lillard had one too many Scooby Snacks prior to shooting, or he's simply competing with his own established body of work to create the most brain-dead character ever to appear on screen, but whatever the case, he doesn't belong in this flick. One stoned doofus is sufficient.

 
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