The Perfect Score (review)

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Failing Grade

If there’s one thing that The Perfect Score is really good at, it’s at pointing out what a wonder Scarlett Johansson is, how she’s just there all the time, how she delivers even seemingly undeliverable lines like she really believes them. This is achieved through placing her next to actors for whom these things are mostly not true, actors who range from I’m Trying Really Really Hard, Can’t You Tell? to If I Can Just Say These Lines Without Tripping Over Myself, They’ll Give Me A Big Paycheck.
And that’s about the only thing that The Perfect Score is good at. Let’s face it: director Brian Robbins makes crappy movies about kids. He directed Hard Ball and, oh dear, Good Burger, and he was one of the writers of Big Fat Liar. And now he’s got this flick under his belt, and it’s not pretty. Mostly, it’s kinda boring, with occasional moments of ludicrousness, and a few instances — surprisingly — of lucid social commentary. No, seriously. It’s just that those few instances are thoroughly overwhelmed by the absurdity of a band of high schoolers plotting to steal the answers to the SAT by going to such creative, if unbelievable, lengths to pull off their little heist that you can’t help but think that if they put even half that much energy into, you know, studying, they’d have no trouble with the stupid test in the first place.

It is a stupid test, one that measures more one’s ability to take tests than it does anything else, one that has surely contributed to the standardized-test-ization of our schools, forcing teachers to teach rote memorization instead of teaching kids how to think and how to learn. I like the idea of kids bucking a system that wants to see them as nothing but a number, a system that puts their entire futures at the mercy of one test result, a system that ignores the personal qualities that cannot be quantified. And Score starts out with that kind of ambition, to be a little subversive, to be a little angry. But then it forgets even this minor aspiration, and gives up and gives in. And so instead of a story in which cheating big is a daring act of rebellion and a matter of principle, cheating just a little is the cop out, the dishonest choice.

Oh, it’s a motley, breakfast-clubby kind of crew that comes together for this caper: the Regular Guy, Kyle (Chris Evans), an aspiring architect with more drive than GPA; the Dumb Guy, his buddy Matty (Bryan Greenberg), who has no goal beyond joining his college-freshman girlfriend next fall; the Brain, Anna (Erika Christensen: The Banger Sisters, Home Room), the class salutatorian, whose reason for needing to cheat makes her the most inane Brain teen-moviedom has ever seen; the Stoner, Roy (Leonardo Nam); the Jock, Desmond (Darius Miles), who needs a fallback if the NBA doesn’t comes through for him; and the Disaffected Weirdo, punky-goth Francesca (Johansson: Girl with a Pearl Earring, Lost in Translation), whose father so conveniently happens to own the building where the SAT people have their offices. And don’t think the film itself doesn’t overtly invoke John Hughes — at least it’s Francesca who gets to do it, and Johansson injects the line with such cynicism that instead of a failed joke it becomes metacommentary on the film itself; even her character realizes what a cliché she is.

Any idea of exploring what passes for scholarship and education today is bypassed in favor of the mechanics of the heist, which generally are so preposterously easy that the characters have to be dumbed down enough to make idiotic mistakes — because if they didn’t, the film could easily have been over in 20 minutes. And it also requires, conversely, that all the characters have unexpected and unlikely talents they can pull out of thin air when the movie paints them into a corner… and they’re talents that make you sputter and say, But wait: If you could do that, then you don’t need to cheat!

Do you remember that rumor — maybe it’s still going around high schools today; maybe it’s not a rumor — that you got 200 points just for showing up and writing your name on your test booklet? The Perfect Score doesn’t get 200 points for showing up.

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