Better Luck Tomorrow (review)

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The nice, intelligent, overachieving high schoolers don’t usually get their turn on the big screen — punishment for ruining the grade curve, maybe — so this black comedy from first-time director Justin Lin is more than welcome, even if it’s not entirely successful. Did I say “nice”? In their downtime between running the school paper, preparing for the academic decathlon, volunteering in the community, and earning straight As, junior Ben Manibag (Parry Shen) and his honor-society posse delve into some extracurricular activities that they dare not mention on their applications to Ivy League universities, after-school activities involving guns, drugs, and, of course, the inevitable inconvenient dead body. The cast is highly appealing — especially Jason Tobin as Ben’s cousin Virgil, who creates the believably angry and confused kid behind the class clown — and Lin avoids Asian-American stereotypes in favor of a more realistic depiction of the integrated life of suburban California. But the film’s snappy, smart, and electric first hour is marred by the final 30 minutes, in which Lin and his cowriters, Ernesto Foronda and Fabian Marquez, lose focus and fumble with too many false endings. Still, it’s a promising debut from Lin, and worth a look-see for fans of crime comedy.

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