The Perfect Score
January 30th, 2004
For his fifth feature directing assignment, filmmaker Brian Robbins once again proves that he’s one of the worst helmers in the business. “The Perfect Score” might appear to be a clever SAT teen comedy, but I assure you, any cleverness this picture might have had in the past was Robbins-ized long before the opening credits roll.
The SAT: the test that has brought millions of high school kids to their knees begging for mercy. One teenage Hipster (Chris Evans) wants to secure his score and his place in college, and hatches a plan to steal the answers to the SAT from the testing headquarters. For help, Hipster enlists Overachiever (Erika Christensen), Underachiever (Bryan Greenberg), Unloved Rich Girl (Scarlett Johansson), Secret Genius Pothead (Leonardo Nam, working up a sweat trying to be funny), and the token African-American (non-actor Darius Miles, and you can tell that with every word that drops like an anvil from his mouth), to help in the plan. Once inside the heavily secured office, things go wrong, and the team is forced to confront each other’s wishes for the future while they try to figure a way out of their situation.
The director of “The Perfect Score” is Brian Robbins. In this, the man still cannot seem to make a decent picture. His filmography includes the infamous Nickelodeon film “Good Burger,” the rancid high school football drama “Varsity Blues,” the forgotten professional wresting comedy “Ready to Rumble,” and the little league/inner city/gambling addiction drama “Hardball.” And the best of the lot is “Good Burger.” That should say quite a bit about his talents.
“Perfect Score” plays to Robbins’s narrow talents in that it’s a fast paced, ceaselessly unfunny comedy that is meant for that all important demographic of teenagers ages 17 to 18. Though established as an investigation of unfair or unrealistic SAT practices, “Score” is more of a heist picture the cradles its formula and steals from other pictures whenever it can. Think of it as “Ocean’s Eleven” for kids who ride the short bus to school.
Starting with the rigid stereotyping of the main characters, “Score” does very little with its rather novel exploration of the tense SAT world. The opening scenes involving the students succumbing to the pressures of the test simply act as filler to the picture’s main arc: the break in. Once the teens get into the testing headquarters, Robbins and his screenwriters drop the SAT angle entirely and instead dole out painfully contrived moments in which the characters open up to each other and reveal their inner most desires and fears. There is a “Breakfast Club” reference made, which points out the laziness of the screenwriting that these filmmakers couldn’t come up with anything else besides self-conscious character development where there are no characters. Once Robbins introduces the African-American character who is a basketball whiz, has a sassy mother, and listens only to rap music, that pretty much erases any credibility “Score” had right there. “Breakfast Club” was graceful, and effortlessly nurtured humanity out of its clichés. “Perfect Score” can’t be bothered with those man hours, and awkwardly pushes itself in and out of every scene. This has become a Robbins specialty.
That leaves the audience with the routine collection of pothead humor, oddly dated “Dawson’s Creek” and “Matrix” references, and rather poor cinematography from J. Clark Mathis (“Ready to Rumble”), who seems to favor blown out sunlight or muddy blacks as his palette of choice. The only shining light of the production is actress Scarlett Johansson, who, in the midst of a career breakthrough with “Lost in Translation” and “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” must really hate the fact this MTV-produced lemon has shown up right at the same moment the Hollywood collective was about to take her seriously. Johansson has played teens for years now, and she’s good at it. She doesn’t allow Robbins to step all over her performance, and “Perfect Score” would’ve been a real disaster without her.
My rating: D-