More satire than spoof, and more comedy than it is horror, Detention is a very self-aware teen slasher flick, full of popular culture references, and those not so popular as well. An opening scene in which the head cheerleader explains to the audience how to be cool, moments before having her throat slit by a mummified Cinderella is the precarious balance the movie tries to maintain throughout its ninety minutes: mocking everything that teenage movies are about, while trying to make a convincing teenager movie.
A light-hearted tone, a young cast with good timing, and a relentless onslaught of jokes and arcane allusions make the Joseph Kahn film a good deal of fun, but far too jumbled to leave a lasting impression. Josh Hutcherson plays Clapton Davis, the stereotypical underachiever, and the heart of a cast of similar stereotypes. He is the object of affection of Riley Jones, the average-looking one who hates her life and tries and fails on occasion to commit suicide. There is the dumb blonde, the jock, the nerdy Asian (named Toshiba), the goth chick, the black guy, the pumped up gym coach and the jerk-of-a-principal (a very funny Dane Cook).
There is also the foreign student who perhaps steals the show, at least in Toronto. His name is Gord, a meat-lover from Nova Scotia who wears only a Calgary Flames jersey with his name on it.
They all play their part, with quick dialogue making them funny and quick scenes making sure they aren’t boring. The film is ultimately about them, and not about a wandering plot that doesn’t see the kids in detention until the end of the film, has a random killer that doesn’t really seem to bother people, and has more time travel than you would expect.
Simultaneously mocking and embracing pop culture from today and years and decades past, Kahn does well to make every joke relevant to the plot and characters, unlike say, a recent Seth MacFarlane vehicle that just throws out random references hoping one will stick. Ione, played with great idiocy by Spencer Locke, is a girl trapped in another decade, in love with Sting and everything else from the late 80’s.
Gags come full circle, and only the most observant will catch everything the first time around in a film with great rewatchability. It will make fun of things that you make fun of, and make fun of things that you did, if for no other reason that Kahn himself probably did those things. There is plenty to laugh out loud about, but the best scene comes in the school, when a tour of detention through years pasts has music and outfits that will make you both nostalgic and embarrassed.
The plot might not make sense – there’s a kid with wings, a Ron Jeremy appearance, and a perfunctory attempt at a love story– but it doesn’t matter. Catch the jokes as they come, be proud if you notice the Indiana Jones reference, and then do it all over again sometime. It is the best a movie can do that wants to mock itself, everyone else, and you, while still being coherent and entertaining, and finding a way to incorporate the musical stylings of Hanson.