Brick could have gotten by on the novelty and cleverness of its high-school-as-noir-wasteland conceit alone, but style, wit, and fine performances elevated it to something more than a smartass cinephile stunt. In contrast, the one thing Assassination Of A High School President—which just received a discreet direct-to-DVD burial after playing Sundance in 2008—has going for it is a nifty gimmick borrowed from Brick, which makes it feel awfully redundant. The not-so-clever twist is that the film’s dogged truth-seeker (Reece Thompson) is an aspiring journalist (emphasis on aspiring, as he’s never actually finished a story) rather than a detective, but audiences can be forgiven for mistaking him for a shamus as he follows clues into a shadowy underworld filled with dark secrets and sinister conspiracies.
Narrating the film in pale imitation of classic hardboiled patter, Thompson plays a bullied sophomore hunting down the big scoop that will impress his skeptical high-school newspaper peers and score him a full ride to Northwestern. Thompson thinks he’s found just that when he begins writing about the high-school president and uncovers a much bigger story involving the theft of SATs. When Thompson’s sleuthing attracts the attention of the school’s most popular girl (Mischa Barton), he becomes her unlikely escort to the big dance and suddenly goes from geek to chic.
Bruce Willis costars as the school’s gruff principal and the warden of its makeshift jail. He’s a glowering, myopic disciplinarian who obsesses over gum while his school devolves into a pit of sin and degradation. Assassination Of A High School President paints the divergent cliques of its high-school ecosystem in broad, stereotypical strokes, mapping an all-too-familiar coterie of stoners, white hip-hop kids, bullies, and femme fatales in Catholic schoolgirl skirts. The film coasts along pleasantly enough on second-hand cleverness, but in crossbreeding high-school and hardboiled detective movies yet again, it contributes nothing of substance to either genre.
Key features: A commentary track featuring director Brett Simon and screenwriters Tim Calpin and Kevin Jakubowski, as well as 21 minutes of extended and alternate scenes and another seven minutes of deleted scenes, all with optional filmmaker commentary.