Note: Although screencaps can only tell so much of the story, click any capture (taken straight from the disc) in this review to expand the image to full size.
The 2004 film Torque came and went, dismissed by most as a forgettable Fast and the Furious knockoff that replaced cars with motorcycles and called it a day. Viewed on DVD, however, it's hard to see anything but director Joseph Kahn's disinterest in recycling popular trends: Torque openly spoofs the gearhead movies it's supposed to be emulating, setting a cycle chase on top of a moving bullet train, or staging a kung-fu fight where the cycles serve as the fists and feet (bike-fu?). The film's finale involves the hero and villain rocketing through a major metropolis at a speed fast enough to shatter car windows, fire trailing behind their tires, throwing punches and kicks and shooting at each other without getting off the bikes or stopping. Somehow, the sarcasm went over some people's heads.
Kahn's new film Detention has a similar sensibility: characters in the film take in pop culture as fast as they take in oxygen, regurgitating the '90s until you can hardly tell 1992 and 2012 apart. The film moves at the speed of text message, frequently leaping from Point A to Point D to Point M inside of 30 seconds, with the belief that the viewer will have seen enough movies and be attentive enough to fill in the blanks. The crucial difference, though, is that Kahn and co-writer Mark Palermo are genuinely invested in these characters, giving Detention the heart and soul that Torque (as fun as it is) is missing.
The story -- hard to summarize -- revolves around Riley (Shanley Caswell). She's got a crush on the immensely popular Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson), but he's just been wooed by Riley's former best friend Ione (Spencer Locke). With prom a few days away and her loser-y friend Sander (Aaron David Johnson) looking to make his move, her interest in sticking around to see what happens next is quickly dwindling. Before she can off herself, however (Riley is as good at suicide as John Cusack in Better Off Dead), a homicidal maniac dressed as popular horror movie villain Cinderhella (whose films are an obvious jab at the Saw series and the torture porn trend) shows up and tries to axe murder her.
Although Detention lays on the irony and self-reflexiveness with the thickest of brushes, its eye and sympathy for the neuroses of high schoolers cuts through the satire with a satisfying earnestness. A sweet scene between Riley and Clapton on a two-person skateboard isn't great because it's cleverly choreographed and builds to an Oasis joke, it's great because through those references and gags, the characters are sharing sincere emotions. Torque is funny, but it's all just a witty reaction to an uninspiring assignment. Here, Kahn and Palermo are actually using the ADHD nature of modern movies as a cultural Trojan horse to cart in a smart story about teens. It helps that Kahn has assembled a terrific cast. It'd be easy to sing the praises of almost everyone involved, from leads Hutcherson and Locke to supporting players Marque Richardson and James Black (who gets the biggest laugh in the movie) -- even Dane Cook is unusually good as bitter school principal Karl Verge, whose contempt for the students is palpable. However, the real discovery is Caswell: without a trace of self-consciousness, she dives headlong into anything the movie throws at her, whether the moment calls for a pratfall or heartbroken self-loathing.
The other advantage Detention has over Torque is complete creative freedom, which Kahn uses to dive even further off the deep end. Each scene bursts with reckless creativity and invention; Detention might actually have more layers and twists than Inception. Few high school films would even mess with chronological order, but Detention gleefully incorporates elements like body horror and time travel on the convoluted journey to prom. Some people will find these narrative and visual pyrotechnics obnoxious, but that's judging a book by its cover: Detention is a quantum leap forward for its director precisely because all of that style and energy is used to serve the story and characters underneath.
The poster art for Detention makes its way onto the Blu-Ray cover, although I notice the Polaroid of Josh Hutcherson has mysteriously moved to the front, and probably gotten bigger. Cheap fonts aside, it looks fine, even if they have failed -- as will most, myself included -- to write a summary of Detention that does the movie justice. On the back of the artwork, which shows through inside the eco-LITE case, there are some more photos that make Detention look like a general teen comedy, although I like the Grizzly Lake artwork on the disc itself. There is no insert.
The Video and Audio
Sony's 1080p 2.35:1 AVC presentation of Detention is solid. Although the image isn't quite as razor-sharp as some modern productions, that probably has to do with decisions made by Kahn and DP Christopher Probst, not the compression and mastering of the disc itself. Beyond fine detail (which is still strong amidst all sorts of visual stylization), colors are vivid, contrast is great, and I didn't notice any artifacting, aliasing, moire patterns, etc.
Sound-wise, Detention's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio packs a punch. Explosions, spaceships, time travel, pop music, axe attacks, football games, prom, and the hustle and bustle of a busy school provide a ton of opportunities for this track to flex its muscles. All things considered, while the picture looks great, and modern movies ought to be released on Blu-Ray, but if Detention had only been released on DVD (something Kahn fought against, and obviously won), I think the real loss would've been the HD audio. Parisian French and German 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks are also included, as well as a Dolby Digital 5.1 Audio Descriptive track, English, French, German, Arabic and Turkish subtitles, and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing.
The main extra on the disc is "Cheat Mode: The Unbelievably Mind-Melting Making of Detention" (1:33:07, HD). Although the package doesn't clarify, this is not a featurette but a picture-in-picture commentary featuring Joseph Kahn, Mark Palermo, and basically the entire cast talking about their experiences making the movie. For a movie as unusual as Detention, the process of making the movie doesn't seem to have been all that hectic, but there's plenty of tidbits to enjoy: Caswell's own high-school experiences, Kahn's unusual directorial advice to actors, the evolution of Marque Richardson's character Toby T, the most expensive scene in the movie, and rewriting "MMMBop" for the movie's score. Interview clips are accompanied by on-set photographs, B-roll, alternate takes, and Kahn's chicken-scratch storyboards. (Note: this is not a true picture-in-picture track, but an entirely alternate encode of the feature presentation with the pop-up video and images "burned in," complete with its own set of subtitles).
Aside from the PiP track, a few other video extras are included. "Fight Rehearsal" (2:18, SD) is a short clip of the stunt performers working out a rough version of the fight during the film's finale. "Riffing With Dane" (4:19, HD) is pretty self-explanatory: a reel of the actor improvising during some of his takes. Finally, a series of Screen Tests ("Shanley Caswell and Yves Bright," "Shanley Caswell," and "Shanley Caswell and Aaron David Johnson," total running time 8:03, SD) show the auditions that got some of the actors their parts (Caswell has her lines down, Johnson doesn't).
Trailers for Meeting Evil and Starship Troopers: Invasion play before the main menu. No trailer for Detention is included.
Modern filmmaking is more about technique and tools than storytelling. Films that pile on every specific, stylized whim of the director are a dime a dozen, but the ones that remember to have a point, a story, an emotional center are less common. I saw Detention in theaters, and the movie's admittedly intense style seemed like a huge part of the experience, but revisiting the film on Blu-Ray is rewarding not only in getting to examine that style, but in discovering how strong the movie is beyond all of it. Highly recommended.
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