Movie Review
The Perfect Score
2004
Director: Brian Robbins
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Erika Christensen, Chris Evans
F


in Jules Dassin's Rififi, the director devotes over twenty minutes of his film to the heist. During this time nearly all sound drops out and all we're left with is the dreadful wait as the men attempt to crack the safe. The scene, which is tense and authentic, builds upon the momentum of the narrative, creating a harrowing conclusion to the film. In The Perfect Score the heist, such as it is, isn't so much a climactic conclusion as it is a series of arbitrary occurrences that exist outside time and space. I say outside time and space, because it seems as if whatever events occur within the SAT Testing Facility have no causal relationship to what goes on after the heist. One character is arrested during the theft but is released from custody the very next day and, what's more, is still allowed to take the SATs he attempted to steal.

Conversely, inside the Facility our gang of perpetrators encounter the most carefree security system in all existence. Surveillance cameras, which already seem rather sparse, appear to only function when the narrative requires them to. At one point three of the teens have to crawl across the floor of the lobby to avoid one such camera, yet later in that very same room while standing in plain view, two of the teens have a contrived conversation about love and relationships. Hey, remember that camera?

In addition, the windows have no alarms, the security guards are lazy and easily distracted and... well, I could go on about the flaws in the security system, but it would just be gratuitous. In any case, I'm being absolutely unfair to the nature of such a film. Certainly no one walking into The Perfect Score expects it to be as tense or complex as Rififi. Then again, even Big Deal on Madonna Street, which also handles its robbery with a comedic tone, still took the time to establish a plausible environment. The way I see it, if the film takes such a half-assed approach to something as structured as a robbery, what effort will it put into its characters?

Therein lies the odd little conundrum at the heart of The Perfect Score. The movie wants to use the SATs to denounce a culture in which everyone is herded about like sheep, yet at the same time it positions its characters within such rigid stereotypical roles that they appear flat, lifeless and easily categorized. There's the punk-rock feminist (Scarlett Johansson), the smart, good girl (Ericka Christensen), the black basketball player (Darius Miles), the Asian stoner who also knows a lot about computers (Leonardo Lam) and the two nondescript white guys (who, of course, lead the group). The film could have countered these stereotypes by having the characters transcend them, which would at least seem consistent with the intended purpose of the film. But the plot moves by too quickly for anyone to fully grasp each character's personality, and thus we're left with characters who are simply outlines with little to no depth.

It's entirely possible to create an intriguing narrative about any of the characters in The Perfect Score, but all of these half-developed personas in one film add up to very little, if anything at all. Only Johansson's presence was enough to sucker a fool like me into seeing this, but even she visibly struggles with the material. It's clear early on that the director, Brian "Varsity Blues" Robbins, wants merely to exploit her. One of the first shots of her is from under a table looking up her skirt at her underwear.

The film references The Breakfast Club at one point (which I imagine was a sort of inspiration) and it got me thinking; if you're really bored enough to consider seeing The Perfect Score, you should consider that it would be cheaper and more fulfilling to just rent The Breakfast Club instead. And if you still have a thing for Ms. Johansson, have no fear: Lost in Translation just came out of DVD. In any case, do yourself a favor—stay away from The Perfect Score.


By: Dave Micevic
Published on: 2004-02-11
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