Usually, when studios send movies direct-to-video (or, even worse, straight-to-cable), it's not a good sign. In the case of New Line, however, things seem different. Some of the studio's direct-to-video titles (such as "Happy Campers", "Sleeping Dictionary" or "Dinner Rush", although "Rush" did get a minor theatrical release) have turned out to be unseen gems. "Cheats", a funny and witty teen comedy, is another example of a film direct-to-video film from the studio that deserves a bigger audience.
The film (not to be confused with the very good HBO docu-drama "Cheaters") stars Trevor Fehrman and Elden Henson as best friends Handsome Davis and Sammy Green. Both of them share a remarkable hatred for everything about school, and manage to perfect the art of cheating through every grade up to their jump to high school. Once they reach high school, they're united with Victor (Matthew Lawrence) and Jonathan (Martin Starr). With the talents of all four, they've perfected the art of cheating, using Jonathan to make remarkably tiny crib sheets and stealing the janitor's keys to get access to any room in the school. Trying to get them all thrown clear out of the school is principal Stark (Mary Tyler Moore).
Cheating has become an enormous problem in our school system, with papers being available on the internet for purchase and a general change in attitude towards the practice. "Cheats" doesn't have a great deal of plot and its plot is rather familiar, but I liked the way that it presented the negative aspects of cheating. In this case, how it causes potential future problems with getting into a college and how it can break up friendships. On the other hand, I liked aspects of how the film showed cheating - how the friends talked their way out of it, the mechnanics of their plans and eventually, how the girls made a stand not to give up their notes for free.
While not all of the jokes in Andrew Gurland's screenplay go over well, the cast does manage to sell them fairly well. Fehrman, who seems to be a combination of "That 70's Show"'s Topher Grace and Ron Livingston's "Office Space" character, does carry the movie well. Henson, Lawrence and Starr offer good supporting efforts, too. Ace cinematographer Fred Murphy ("October Sky", "Mothman Prophecies") gives the low-budget film's visuals strong energy, too.
Overall, this certainly isn't a movie without some faults, but it's sharper and funnier than most of the teen comedies that hit theaters over the past year. Worth a rental consideration from those in the age group.
VIDEO: "Cheats" is presented by New Line Home Entertainment in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality isn't quite up to the usual standards from the studio, but the presentation is still more than satisfactory. Sharpness and detail remained respectable throughout the film, although a few scenes here and there did look slightly softer by comparison.
A few other minor flaws were scattered about, but nothing too terrible. I spotted a few noticable specks on the print used in a handful of scenes, but nothing too sizable. Minimal edge enhancement was also seen, but compression artifacts were absent. The film's color palette remained fairly low-key, but the transfer presented the look of the film in a way that appeared accurate.
SOUND: "Cheats" is presented by New Line in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. A comedy that takes place indoors for the most part, this is a typical "comedy" soundtrack that mainly comes from the front speakers. The surrounds do kick in on a couple of occasions for the music or very slight ambience, but their use will likely go unnoticed by many. Audio quality was satisfactory, with clear music and dialogue. As one might expect, given the material, the Dolby Digital and DTS soundtracks sounded similar.
The Real Cheats: This 18-minute documentary reunites (almost) all of the real cheaters that inspired the characters in the film. It's a somewhat interesting feature, but 18 minutes started to seem like a long time to watch these people revisit their high school days. Clips from the film and/or behind-the-scenes of the film are added in on occasion.
Also: 3 deleted scenes and trailers for "Drop Dead Gorgeous", "Sugar and Spice" and "Little Nicky".
Final Thoughts: Some of the jokes fell flat, but I liked the film's performances and energy. New Line's DVD offers respectable audio/video quality and a couple of supplements. Recommended as a rental.