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Perfect Score, The

Paramount // PG-13 // June 29, 2004
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted June 24, 2004 | E-mail the Author
September 17th, 1986. Howard Hesseman debuts in his lead role on ABC's Head of the Class. Perhaps not coincidentally, the underdog network is propelled to number one in the ratings that same year. Among Hesseman's on-screen pupils is a young actor named Brian Robbins.

Not much happens for a while as the world lies in wait, but then July 25th, 1997 rolls around. Brian Robbins steps behind the camera for his first feature film, helming a vehicle for Nickelodeon meat slingers Kenan and Kel. The immortal Good Burger pulls in well over twenty million at the box office, embedding itself in the mind of thousands of DVD Talk users who clamor relentlessly for a special edition DVD release.

January 30th, 2004. Brian Robbins' fifth film -- following the sports-centric run of Varsity Blues, Ready to Rumble, and Hardball -- is released. With bated breath, DVD Talkers flood theaters to see if Robbins fulfills the promise seen in his feature film debut. Despite their best efforts, the movie tanks theatrically. But hey, there's always DVD, and Paramount has now graced Robbins' latest with this shiny five-inch disc.

The Perfect Score weaves the tale of six high school seniors who refuse to allow a number to be stamped on their dreams. Ever since fidding with popsicle sticks and Elmer's when he was seven, Kyle (Chris Evans) has had his eye on learning architecture at Cornell. His pal Matty (Bryan Greenberg) doesn't have such lofty ambitions, only interested in heading to Maryland to be with his apparently-not-entirely-faithful freshman girlfriend there. The only obstacle blocking their path is the SAT, and with the retest less than two weeks away, Matty and Kyle decide to steal an answer sheet. They enlist the help of vaguely-punkish feminist Francesca (Scarlett Johansson), whose philandering father owns the building where the test is churned out every year. As a completely random aside, Francesca also has the same GPA as Kyle but is ranked like seventy spots higher in their class; I guess New Jersey has some pretty competitive high schools. A few others get ensnared in their plans -- basketball player Desmond (Darius Miles of the Clippers...I mean the Cavs...I mean the Blazers) who's torn between attending St. John's and heading straight to an NBA payday, daydreaming salutatorian Anna (Erika Christensen), and Roy (Leonardo Nam), a glazed-eyed stoner with a 0.0 GPA. It's a diverse group that doesn't exactly play well together, but they manage to cobble together a scheme to bust into the ETS offices and lift the answers. Of course, things don't go quite as smoothly as planned.

I guess a determined producer tried to salvage The Perfect Score in pre-production. The screenplay passed through three different writers: Mark Schwahn, Mark Hyman, and Jon Zack. Among the movies in their limited collective filmography are Out Cold and Osmosis Jones, if that gives you any hint at their cinematic pedigree. I'd always hoped in my heart of hearts that I'd never have to say this, but Out Cold is funnier than this movie, and Out Cold is a barren comedic wasteland. The Perfect Score is basically Cheats, which I also disliked, on a larger scale. Their basic premise seems reasonably sound, but neither movie managed to be of any interest, and I'd imagine The Perfect Score is quickly going to join Cheats in airing every five and a half hours on HBO. Like Cheats, The Perfect Score is ostensibly a comedy but fails to elicit a single laugh. Most of what's supposed to be funny comes in quick jolts -- Kyle very briefly getting his hands on the answers and his failed attempt at Xeroxing them, a stoned Roy freaking out about a crow, a Street Fighter II monologue, a four-years-too-late Matrix fantasy (not a spoof so much as a shot-for-shot lift with different actors)...even less than an hour after watching the movie, I can't remember any other gags worth scribbling down. (The thirty-four million different quips about what the acronym "SAT" stands for don't count.) This is what a roundtable of thirtysomethings wearing Raybans and overpriced suits thinks their target demographic would find hysterical...the sitcom-grade humor is comedy by committee. The dramatic stabs about life goals and the inherent unfairness of the SAT flounder, and the movie completely cops-out at the end with a heavy-handed, afterschool-special-flavored decision. Actually, there's a whole bunch of afterschool special in there about smoking, drugs, and believing in yourself. There's just something about an MTV movie proclaiming individuality that seems patently ridiculous. The Perfect Score tries to juggle three different genres, but it's not much of a comedy, and the quasi-insightful tripe drags on too long and feels shoehorned in. The angle that comes the closest to clicking is the heist element, although it's unable to generate the sort of tension and excitement that the movie desperately needs.

I didn't think Scarlett Johansson was slumming it in these sorts of movies anymore, but for every two critically acclaimed films she appears in, she seems obligated to follow it up with something really off-kilter. After Ghost World and The Man Who Wasn't There, Johansson turned up in Eight Legged Freaks, and The Perfect Score was released the same week she showed up at the Golden Globes for her double nominations for Girl with a Pearl Earring and Lost in Translation. (The Perfect Score was actually shot before either of those, though, collecting dust on Paramount's shelf with nearly ten months passing between the first scrapped release date and its eventual dumping in the January wasteland.) For continuity's sake, the first time you see Johansson in both The Perfect Score and Lost in Translation, there's a big shot of her panties. While it's a pretty safe bet that The Perfect Score isn't going to fork Johansson into that same class of award ceremonies, Leonardo Nam and Matt Lillard duke it out for the hotly-contested title of Most Grating Actor. It's a toss-up -- Lillard has the least screentime but yet again rehashes the same smirking slacker schtick he trademarked eight years ago. I was skimming through some message board posts on DVD Talk, and someone said that Nam was the best thing about the movie, suggesting that Paramount should've ditched the other characters and centered it entirely around Roy. While that prospect is about as appealing to me as All That: The Motion Picture, the intermittently tolerable Roy is the only character with any creativity infused in his writing and the only actor with any real energy in his performance. For the most part, though, Nam giggles his way through the movie as if his research for the role was limited to Reefer Madness and the oeuvre of Jim Breuer. I guess basketball pro Darius Miles was looking for some way to collect a check in between being traded every couple of months. If he's hoping to fall back on acting, well...he'd better hope he doesn't blow out his knee or something. Y'know how the worst episodes of Saturday Night Live are always the ones where they cram in a sports star, making for ninety minutes of stilted, wooden, monotone delivery? Same concept here, except Darius Miles is C-list compared to the athletes Lorne Michaels wrangles. Erika Christensen is wasted, hardly given anything to do other than look cute and continuing her post-Traffic downward trajectory. As a whole, the characters are cardboard stereotypes: you can predict their arcs within a couple of minutes of their introduction, and the inevitable pairings, romantic and otherwise, are painfully predictable. What happened to the MTV Films that produced Election and picked up Better Luck Tomorrow? The Perfect Score is instantly forgettable mediocrity. Devoid of laughter or any firing synapses in its cinematic brain, The Perfect Score fails to make the grade.

Video: The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is okay, but nothing beyond that. There's a fair amount of grain throughout, and details and clarity are both middling. That lackluster appearance probably owes more to the way the movie was shot than anything specific to this transfer. Black levels and color saturation are both fine, and I didn't spot much in the way of digital nasties like ringing around edges or compression artifacts. Although there are only a handful of specks throughout, they seemed more prevalent than I'm used to seeing for a movie so recently out of theaters. Nothing special. A separate full-frame version is also available.

Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (448Kbps) is a little more active than most comedies, but since large stretches of The Perfect Score just have the cast standing around and not doing anything in particular, the movie doesn't exactly lend itself to a 93 minute balls-out sonic assault. The film's dialogue comes through well and isn't overwhelmed by the not-edgy rock soundtrack. The LFE doesn't get much of a workout, although I was impressed by the deep, resounding bass Desmond kicks when he stops to pick up Roy at one point. To the windoooooow! So, yeah. Pretty standard stuff. Other audio options include a six-channel French dub (also encoded at 448Kbps), a Dolby stereo surround mix, subtitles in English and French, and closed captions.

Supplements: Director Brian Robbins and screenwriter Mark Schwahn contribute an audio commentary. Listening to the track, I can almost picture the two of them leaning back in their chairs -- it's a lightly chatty, easy-going conversation. It's a pretty average track, not mired in overly technical notes or brimming with hysterical anecdotes, but they keep a fairly steady flow of discussion going throughout. Some of the more memorable comments are Robbins making the tough decision in selecting Francesca's panties, noting how a scene with Vanessa Angel was tossed in after principal photography had wrapped, and ribbing "Starlet" Johansson about her career choices.

Anymore, I recoil in horror when I have to review a DVD featurette since they're invariably fluffy, insubstantial, and needlessly self-promotional. Although I'm obviously not too keen on the movie itself, the twenty-one minute "Making The Perfect Score" closes in on what I like to see in a featurette. Schwahn and Robbins return along with all six of the film's stars, discussing the origin of the project, assembling a cast, keeping the camera fluid in such a dialogue-heavy movie, the differences in each of the actors' approaches, and violent games of Marco Polo. Its runtime isn't padded with lots of clips from the movie either; virtually every second either features an interview or behind-the-scenes footage. There is definitely a Mutual Admiration Society thing going, but it seems genuine, and their comments about one another extend beyond the usual "[insert name here] is great!" pap that litters a lot of featurettes.

Finally, there are around sixteen minutes of letterboxed trailers, beginning, of course, with The Perfect Score. Paramount also tosses in plugs for Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Against the Ropes, The Prince & Me, Timeline, and Paycheck. The DVD features a set of static 16x9 menus and fourteen chapter stops. There's no insert. Sorry.

Conclusion: Wow, writing a review of a mediocre movie with a title like The Perfect Score offers up so many obvious jokes and lame puns that I'm not sure where to begin! So, here goes: The Perfect Score deserves anything but, barely squeezing by with a C-. Even that's grading on a curve thanks to the presence of Scarlett Johansson and a couple of her likeable, if underutilized, co-stars. I wouldn't recommend this DVD as anything more than a rental, and you might be even better off waiting for it to wind up in heavy rotation on Showtime in a couple months.
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