There’s something to admire about the in-your-face comic anarchy of Detention, a spoof of slasher films, sci-fi and ’90s pop culture. Who doesn’t like a good excuse for a madman with an axe, a time-traveling bear or the occasional House of Pain song on the soundtrack?
Still, movies have to sink or swim on merits beyond a winking attitude and the ability to slap together a great mix tape, and somebody somewhere forgot that a film needs a streamlined story to make visual chaos palatable. Directed and co-written by music video director Joseph Kahn, Detention has a frenetic visual style that’s fun and appealing in a lot of ways, but there are way too many elements fighting for attention. The movie purports to be about a serial killer named Cinderhella targeting teenagers at Grizzly Lake High, but there are also UFO sightings, time travel, body-switching and Dane Cook as a principal having a really bad hair decade. One football player also seems to be turning into The Fly (which, for the record, was an ’80s movie). Sometimes, you hardly know where to look.
Teenage girls will know, though: at Josh Hutcherson of The Hunger Games, Detention’s biggest draw, and he’s a likable, laid-back presence amid all the craziness. Unfortunately, many of his fans will have to wait for Netflix — they can’t get into an R-rated movie on their own. That’s another strange thing about Detention: It shuts out a good portion of its target audience with a little nudity, a lot of obscenities and the occasional decapitation, which is always played for laughs.
Hutcherson plays Clapton, the nice but cool kid at Grizzly Lake who’s best buddies with the heroine, teenage loser Riley Jones (Shanley Caswell), who in the grand tradition of teen films is not even the tiniest bit unattractive and would not register as an outcast in the sort of CW series that mandates silky hair and cheekbones to die for in its cast. Riley wants to ask Clapton out, but he’s into her best friend, cheerleader Ione (Spencer Locke). And besides, there’s this whole troublesome psycho killer thing happening. Making out is a pain when your friends keep ending up in pieces.
The attacks in Grizzly Lake come to a head when everybody ends up in detention on prom day, although what follows is more likely to give you a raging migraine than explain any of the bizarre plotlines Kahn and co-writer Mark Palermo have set in motion. Detention isn’t really punishment, but it’s not quite the breezy joke its creators surely envisioned.
Cast: Josh Hutcherson, Dane Cook, Spencer Locke, Shanley Caswell.
Director: Joseph Kahn.
Screenwriters: Joseph Kahn, Mark Palermo.
Producers: Joseph Kahn, Mary Ann Toledo, Richard Weager.
A Samuel Goldwyn release. Running time: 89 minutes. Bloody violence, crude and sexual content, nudity, language, some teen drinking and drug use. Opens Friday April 13 at area theaters.