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The Perfect Score (A Movie Review)


Starring Chris Evans, Erika Christensen, Scarlett Johansson, Leonardo Nam, Darius Miles, Sonja Bennett, Rob Boyce, Paul Campbell, Fulvio Cecere, Robert Clarke, Alex Green, Bryan Greenberg, Kyle Labine, Matthew Lillard, Bill MacKenzie and Mike Jarvis.

Screenplay by Mark Schwann, Marc Hyman and Jon Zack.

Directed by Brian Robbins.

Distributed by Paramount Pictures. 90 minutes. Rated PG-13.

If you’re wondering why Scarlett Johansson is following up her two critically acclaimed leading roles in Lost In Translation and Girl With A Pearl Earring with a supporting role in this glitzy but horribly shallow piece of teen angst exploitation, join the club. I can only hope for her sake that this movie has been sitting around in the can for a long time, and against her and the public’s best wishes the studios are finally letting it loose on an unsuspecting world to capitalize on her new name recognition. If that is the case, at least she can take solace in the fact that this is as low as her career is likely to sink in the foreseeable future, while it is quite probably a high-water mark for her co-stars.

In this low rent Breakfast Club wannabe, we are introduced to six students who are thrown together because they got low SAT scores. They have one chance to get them right, or else they will have low scores on their permanent records and they will undoubtedly not get into a proper college. They may even have to (Lord have mercy!) go to work.

The film tries to make them seem like rebels, but they come off instead as self-centered brats who think they are entitled to whatever they want in life. The ring-leader is Kyle, (Chris Evans as the Emilio Estefan character, sort of) a reasonably good student who is still 200 SAT points short of the cut-off to get into his goal school, Cornell. His best friend Matty (Bryan Greenberg) is in the same boat, as is a group of cliched, stale character types. There is Anna, the smart, stuck-up one (Erika Christensen of Traffic and Swimfan as the Molly Ringwald character). Francesca is the goofy punk girl (Johansson asked to channel Ally Sheedy). Roy is the stoner kid who is surprisingly smart (Leonardo Nam in a strange but admittedly amusing meld of Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall and Long Duck Dong from Sixteen Candles.) Desmond (NBA player Darius Miles) is the star athlete and token black friend.

Each one of them is in eminent danger of NOT GETTING INTO THE COLLEGE OF THEIR CHOICE. (They just don't make conflicts like they used to.) But instead of doing the sensible thing and, you know, studying, they just sit around and bitch about how unfair the tests are.

The film complains that the SATs are biased to be harder to blacks, women, the poor. All these points may even be valid, and yet in making this argument they forget that Kyle and Matty are none of these things. In fact, only one of the group of six is black, two are women and none are all that poor. Kyle’s just lazy and thinks the world owes him a living. In a scene where he’s trying to explain his point to his guidance counselor, he says that despite the fact he has low test scores he should be allowed into Cornell because he’s always wanted to be an architect. Hell, when he was only seven he built a log cabin with popsicle sticks. The fact that the counselor refrains from laughing in his face constitutes the second-best example of acting in this film.

The six students come upon a plan. Since they’ve decided that the tests are unfair anyway, they might as well cheat. This sets up a ludicrous caper section where they break into the Princeton Testing Center to steal the answers. It’s a wonderful message to convey to the youth of today… if you can’t get what you want by hard work, go out and steal it.

The amazing thing is that in the midst of all this crap, anytime the film settles on Johansson it becomes almost worth watching. Not that her role is in any way well written, but Scarlett invests her with a depth and gravity that most certainly was not on the pages. That may be an acting feat even more impressive than her work in Lost in Translation. (1/04)

Alex Diamond

Copyright ©2004 All rights reserved. Posted: January 31, 2004.


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