Written and Directed by Joseph Kahn
Starring Josh Hutcherson, Riley Jones, Dane Cook, Spencer Locke
Running Time of 93 Minutes
Rated R for bloody violence, crude and sexual content, nudity, language, some teen drinking and drug use
When a film is so clearly the singular vision of one man, it has the opportunity to alienate and confound. Detention, self funded by writer/director Joseph Kahn (the hilariously stupid Torque, many music videos), is exactly that – Kahn’s thoughts and likes so clearly flow through the film that you can’t help but take a step back and admire its wild ambition. If I were to surmise one thing about Kahn it would be that he has the artistic tendencies of a hyperactive teenager, but at the very least he has the technical skill and the smarts to pull his fantasies together and turn them into a film. Detention defies genre and classification, and it undoubtedly requires a very specific type of individual to connect to its rhythms and content.
If the starting point of the film is Scream and the ending point is time travel, you can only imagine what sort of nonsense exists to fill in the middle. And, to be sure, Detention is nonsense. The film exists in its own world, in which the pop culture of the 90s requires the utmost reverence and cinematic genres can all smash into one wild, weird confection. From a technical standpoint, the film reminds me of Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World – witty editing, quick jokes, text on screen. Though I don’t usually like to make such specific comparisons, Detention is so difficult to describe that it is necessary here to understand what exactly you are dealing with. The film begins in a way that is perhaps as meta as any other film I can recall, and evolves from there. It is self-referential, fast paced, and utterly postmodern. It is a film that would not exist if not for MTV, which is made all the more true by the fact that Joseph Kahn cut his teeth making music videos in the 1990s.
We are introduced to a series of high school characters, mostly notably the sad-sack Riley (Shanley Caswell) and the lovable cool kid Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson, newly of The Hunger Games fame), and the film attempts to capture some sense of the modern high school experience. A mention of the work of John Hughes wouldn’t be entirely off base. What’s fascinating about the film is that it is one of the few that I can say firmly exists in the 2010s. This is not to say that we yet have any idea what this new decade will bring us, but rather that the film seems to be a creation of the early 2010s teenage mindset. In many ways, the film is every bit as obnoxious as that sounds. The jokes and references (some incredibly bizarre and unexpected) come incredibly fast, and there are just as many hits as there are misses. Even when a joke or a moment or a reference misses, however, I couldn’t help but be just a little bit swept up by the madness and the decidedly “screw you” attitude. Kahn is playing by his own rules, and breaking the rules of the traditional cinematic language in the process. It may be silly and nonsensical, but it is also refreshing. The parts are indeed better than the whole, as the film is ultimately a giant mess, but from my perspective it is a ride worth taking, especially if you have a particular fondness for all things 1990s.