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Detention Review: We Didn't Start The Fire

By Seth Freilich | Film | May 10, 2011 |

By Seth Freilich | Film | May 10, 2011 |

Harry Truman, Dorris Day, Red China, Johnie Ray,
Neverending references, pop cultural grand prix.

Karate Kid, The Breakfast Club, Freaky Friday, and Hot Tub (Time Machine)
Patrick Swayze, Steven Segal, Mister Miyagi.

Detention is overwrought, meta-reference onslaught,
Self-aware but tries too hard, it’s patently overt.

Just because it’s overdone, doesn’t mean it isn’t fun,
With campy gore, alien bears, Dalton says “pain don’t hurt.”

I didn’t hate Detention,
It was still a fun trip,
Even though it’s too “hip.”
I didn’t hate Detention,
But it’s hard to endorse,
Cause it’s all just so forced.

Riley is a troubled teen, and she talks to the screen,
(Ferris Bueller, Easy A and “Saved By the Bell”).

She’s got a crush on a, dude who’s name is Clapton,
But he digs Ione, a girl with few brain cells.

Billy Nolan also digs on Ione,
So he’s angry, hates Clapton, high school drama, processed cheese.

And then things get weird, Canadian debate,
Dane Cook’s scar, time travel, touble in the nineties!

The details of the story
Really do not matter
They’re mad like the hatter.
The details of the story
Are so god damned inane,
It’s like Scream on cocaine.

Once again, let me say, grizzly bears from outer space.
And a, kid who’s been, nineteen years in detention.

Scott Pilgrim, fucked the eighties, …made Darko babies,
Mad mad world, hey McFly, space and time dimension.

Blah blah blah blah, blah blah, blah blah blah, blah blah,
Blah blah blah, blah blah, blah blah blah blah weather.

Blah blah, blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah blah blah,
Blah blah blah blah, blah blah, “what’s your damage Heather?”

…Watching Detention is pretty much exactly like the process of writing this review. You start off with a lot of steam, thinking “well this is a kind of fun and clever thing.” And then you find yourself trying to process so many allusions, pop culture references and meta-shenanigans that you’re exhausted by the mid-point. I didn’t quit watching the film, as I did with writing my “We Didn’t Start the Fire” parody, but I certainly thought about it. Not because I wasn’t enjoying it, but because I was just out of steam.

Detention is short attention span absurdist theater, a Ridalin-deficient ADD kid on a sugar high (you can see writer/director Joseph Kahn’s MTV/video roots all over the spastic screen). It’s got this style that is a complete theft and mashup of a bajillion films that came before it and yet, because it’s so entirely self-aware of this fact, it manages to sort of turn that into a style all of its own. The story, for what it’s worth, is about a bunch of kids gearing up for prom while also facing the threat of a murderer who has come to town and appears to be copycatting the successful in-screen Cinderhella series. It’s like Scream and John Hughes had sex behind a 7-11 dumpster, and then the impending baby was aborted and tossed into a Slurpee machine with Vice Versa and Battlefield Earth.

But as I said in the first chorus, none of this is to suggest that I didn’t enjoy Detention, because I did. There’s not a lot of gore in the flick, but what gore there is is lovely. And there are quite a few laugh-out-loud moments, when you’re able to follow what the hell is going on. You can make shitball insane movies that are complete filth (KABOOM!), but this isn’t that. It’s hard to flat-out recommend seeing Detention because it’s so damn hard to explain the film in a way that can really let you make an educated decision of whether my recommendation has any merit. But I can say that this is the kind of shitballs insane movie that is actually relatively fun in its insanity, preferably watched in a theater with a large group. And preferably stone cold sober, because I don’t think one’s brain would be able to process this in a less-than-full state, and you’d probably wind up walking out of the film thinking that you, too, can have a Patrick Swayze spirit animal. Which, on second thought, maybe isn’t such a bad thing — we could all do well to be guided in life by Dalton, no?

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Detention screened at South by Southwest 2011.

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Seth is a Senior Editor and sometime critic. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.