The Perfect Score

Starring:
  • My Scarlett Letter
  • Swimfan
  • Matthew Lillard: Best Supporting Actor!
Directed by Eric, The Street Kid With the Heart of Gold with Eyes for Simone
"Keanu Got Three Stitches for Hardball! Keanu Made His Choices for Hardball! Are You Two Ready to Give Me That Keanu Feeling for The Perfect Score?"
Brian Robbins Knows That We Live in Two Americas

The unfortunate fact is this: The Perfect Score is a warmed over John Hughes mishmash of teenager stereotypes that has been bottled up into an MTV-friendly version of Ocean's Eleven. With any typical film director hired by the one and only MTV Productions (who gave us the Janet Jackson tit-flash this weekend during the Super Bowl Half-time Show), this would be the end of The Perfect Score. But this is Brian Robbins's follow-up to 2001's Hardball, a film that the Filmsnobs have wasted plenty of ink in expressing our fascination with the passion and creativity put into the story of Coach Coner O'Neil and the children of the Kekambas. Hardball is a film that shouldn't have been anything more than a Mighty Ducks in the inner city with Keanu's gambler subbing for Emilo's drunk driver. But Robbins was so intent on creating something more to this story that he invested a great deal of research and time into making these kids someone that O'Neil could and should and would save. It might have been insane - chest plugging G-Baby still remains one of the most brutally random events in recent cinema- but his portrayal of the inner city, the American education system, and the circles of illegal gambling were so...sincere that it was hard not to give the film some credit. We know Brian Robbins hates the Filmsnobs (As indicated by his rant against on-line critics in the director's commentary) but his style and gusto will someday produce a true masterpiece. And while The Perfect Score does not achieve this level, Robbins is able to develop a surface-level theme about standardized testing creating a significant rift in the fabric of our society. It's hard to say this point makes the film recommendable, but Robbins' presentation makes it awfully hard to deny.

There are five high schoolers who really need to score well on the SAT in order to escape some existence or another. There's Kyle (Chris Evans) the average guy wanting into the Ivy League to be an architect; his friend Matty (Bryan Greenberg) who wants needs into college to be near his ever-neglectful girlfriend; Anna (Erika Christensen) is the overachiever with the overbearing parents; Francesca (Scarlett Johansson! Our favorite!) is the Rich Rebel Without a Cause; Desmond (Darius Miles) is the star basketball player who's smarter than most people give him credit; and Roy (Leonardo Nam), the unassuming Asian pothead who is really good with electronics. Okay, I just spent as much time establishing these characters as the film does. Fine, and then the plot puts all of them into their own desperate situations and they try to break into the company that produces the test. The script, by a group of screenwriters collectively responsible for Osmosis Jones and the Robbins-Tollin production One Tree Hill, develop these characters so underwhelming that they would get kicked out of The Breakfast Club. Each character is introduced with such preconceived notions that it's clear that each one will prove each other (and the audience by default) wrong by the end. The characters are so beholden to the mechanism of the plot that they're never really allowed to breathe. And there is potential. But more on that later. And admittedly, the characters of any heist flick are required to be purely functional at some level or another. But there is something additionally contrived about these characters in The Perfect Score. Now, the heist flick is as old as celluloid itself, but The Perfect Score is one of the first to be produced in the post-Ocean's Eleven era: The soundtrack is poppy and jazzy, a lot of track shots are used, every situation is more complicated and overblown than it should be even for this genre, and each member of the gang has such distinctive yet insufferable characteristics that they virtually become walking punchlines. Now I loved O11 as much as anyone else, but this film already makes me sick of the new trend. But what's this I hear about Ocean's Twelve...

It's honestly too bad that MTV Productions forced the hand to create a teenager version of Danny Ocean's antics because any audience member can tell that Robbins was far more interested with further implications of this story. And I know that shimes and I perhaps have higher expectations for Robbins than pretty much anyone else watching The Perfect Score, but the first half of the film tips its hat to something greater than what was actually produced. Roy provides the narration for the opening montage: A series of diverse students are taking the SAT. Roy informs us about the process of creating a standardized test and the assumptions it makes about the students taking the test. "And they make standardized tests for the standardized student? Yeah, right", mocks Roy as the camera captures a pregnant girl trying to fit into a desk and someone walking through a beeping metal detector. And no one can question the logic of this setup. There are inherent inequities weaved into standardized test that will only become magnetized thanks to the initiatives set forth in Leave No Child Behind. This is an issue touched upon by the likes of John Singleton, but I was really hoping that Robbins would go all of the way to declaring the SAT as the Great Divide of our society. And then there's a moment where Kyle explains that the SAT once stood for Standardized Aptitude Test but the makers felt that was an inaccurate description. What does it stand for now, he is inquired. "Nothing. It doesn't stand for anything anymore." That's right. This is just a way to keep us down, man! I was so excited that I barely noticed the shot where Robbins pans up Johansson's leg and we see her cherry panties. Well, I wasn't that distracted. But after that point, any important message is drowned by the plot. Sad, because I saw what Robbins wanted to do. He wanted to make a statement about treating the education system like a stockyard where the kids are all but forced to walk down the shoot. He wanted to make a film where the black athlete was forced to steal a test that he was totally able to take legitimately but felt too much pressure. He wanted to make a film where Scarlett Johansson wears cherry-covered underwear. Oops. Am I still stuck on that?

And let me finish this review with a word about Matthew Lillard. He is "Kyle's brother" in the film (This is the listing in IMDb and I can't remember if the script actually references him by name or not) and his role only takes up a few scenes. As a matter of fact, I had no idea he was in the film. But I am slowly becoming serious with my defense of Lillard. This guy, quite like Robbins behind the camera, has such a free and goofy sincerity that his shortcomings as an actor are outweighed by the force he puts behind every performance. The scene towards the end where he has a heart-to-heart with his brother is a real surprise. He tells Kyle about how, at every Christmas for the past ten years, he and their parents will sit up and talk about his potential as a student. Getting over the insanity of this moment -they've been doing this since this kid was seven? - means finding a really poignant statement about the need for a supportive family. And Lillard is able to drop the mugging he used for the whole film to sell it. If only The Perfect Score had dropped its corporate kid-baiting for a few moments. Then perhaps the Hardball legacy would have continued.

 

The Pitch:
2 Ocean's Eleven
Plus
1/2  
1/2 John Hughes
Equals
 
2 1/2 The Perfect Score
See It For:

Robbins Beaming After Killing Shimes and Jimmy O