The demented, hyperactive dark comedy Detention, by music-video veteran and Torque auteur Joseph Kahn, begins as a bald-faced Scream knock-off, but by the time it races to a surprisingly satisfying conclusion, it’s nakedly appropriated bits and pieces from just about every beloved Gen-X cult movie of the past 30 years—including, but not limited to, Back To The Future, Donnie Darko, The Fly, Southland Tales, The Breakfast Club, Juno, and She’s All That. It’s as if Kahn, who also co-wrote the overstuffed screenplay, rifled through his DVD collection one coked-up evening, took everything he loved about his favorite movies, and discarded everything else—primarily coherence, character development, subtlety, and soul.
Shanley Caswell stars in the Rachael Leigh Cook She’s All That role as the not-so-secretly-hot outcast girl who pines for Josh Hutcherson, an incorrigible smartass pursuing a future as a Pitchfork-style music-writer snob, while also pursuing the school’s hottest cheerleader. But romantic travails take a backseat when a deranged slasher from a Saw/Scream-style teen horror film named Cinderhella seemingly escapes the big screen and begins killing students.
Detention suffers from a giddy overabundance of ideas rather than a dearth. This relentlessly postmodern, plastic provocation is at least three steps removed from anything resembling actual human experience: It’s based almost exclusively on films inspired by films inspired by films. Detention is the kind of go-for-broke instant cult extravaganza that decides to make a minor supporting character an alien-infected, acid-spewing fly/human mutation like Jeff Goldblum in The Fly (and, to a lesser extent, Eric Stoltz in The Fly II) just for the hell of it. The script is insanely convoluted even before it adds time travel to the mix and becomes something of an early-’90s nostalgia pop-culture comedy. Detention is ballsy, audacious, and uncompromising, but the overall effect of Kahn’s Hellzapoppin-meets-Twitter aesthetic is exhausting rather than energizing. It’s an ice-cream headache of a movie-movie that’s so relentlessly “fun,” it’s borderline obnoxious.