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‘Score’ Fails to Break Away From Conventional Teen Genre

Characters provide more irony than comedy

By Philip Burrowes

The Perfect Score

Written by Mark Schwahn, Marc Hyman, Jon Zack

Directed by Brian Robbins

Starring Erika Christensen, Chris Evans, Bryan Greenberg, Scarlett Johansson, Darius Miles, Leonard Nam

I watched MTV Films’ “The Perfect Score” knowing full well the movie was not meant for me. The story of six high school students who plan to steal the answers to the SAT rather than study for it was simply not something I could empathize with. Furthermore, I’ve always resented MTV’s existence for reasons too numerous to mention here. Still, with commercials featuring Leonardo Nam as a scatterbrained, sex-starved pothead, I was anxious to see just how far his character could go in shattering cinematic stereotypes of Asian-American males.

Thus I was temporarily able to forgive the film for being contrived, predictable, and only occasionally humorous, as I was ever on my seat, waiting for Nam to “get the girl.” In the process, however, I noticed the film was steadily progressing past hackneyed and moving into the territory of fundamental contradiction. One might argue that what I perceived as shoddy storytelling was actually a conscious decision on the part of the screenwriters. We are, after all, dealing with a set of thieves as our protagonists. Unambiguously condoning their actions could “send the wrong message.”

Looking at the horribly miscast crew assembled on screen, I’m willing to assume it’s actually a case of poor production. Erika Christensen has proved through films like “Swimfan” and “Traffic” that she is adept at playing characters with loose morals, yet here her role is Anna, the goody two-shoes salutatorian. As Francesca -- Web mistress of darkness -- Scarlett Johansson is at first unrecognizable, which is a waste on both aesthetic and dramatic levels. Chris Evans and Bryan Greenberg are both most famous for playing jocks (in “Not Another Teen Movie” and on “One Tree Hill,” respectively) so of course they play Kyle the architect and Matty the love-sick boyfriend, respectively.

Actual jock Darius Miles sleepwalks as Desmond, a basketball player who wants a college degree to appease his mother. This simply proved too distracting as I found myself constantly debating whether or not this was an ingenious casting decision or merely an ironic one. Miles himself had been drafted out of high school four years ago with much ballyhoo, but has yet to fulfill his potential. Starting alongside fellow high school phenom LeBron James this year was supposed to be the turning point of his career, but eventually he found himself relegated to the bench, and he was quite recently traded. His implicit sorrow in regards to his past decisions is mildly depressing.

Nam is the sole bright spot as Roy, displaying an excellent grasp of aZn apathy despite being an Argentinean raised in Australia. However, the writers seemed unwilling to follow through on Roy’s initial burnout persona. After he has been firmly established as a class-cutting cipher, Roy miraculously displays an ability to code, an aptitude for math, and an entrepreneurial ambition. By film’s end, he has lost most of charm he held as the anti-Asian.

Indeed, almost every unconventional sense of morality the audience is presented with is subsequently undermined. Kyle is warned by his slacker brother (Matthew Lillard, playing himself) that stealing is wrong. Desmond tells Roy to stop smoking weed, and indeed his herb-hobbled lungs nearly ruin the plan. As for the SAT itself, not only are the grievances that each character held against the test weak to begin with, but they are also conflicting. Matty, for example, feels he is simply too dumb to get a score high enough and join his girlfriend at Maryland, but Kyle is convinced the exam doesn’t even properly evaluate intellect. These conflicts are largely glossed over rather than resolved for one side or another, which in effect leaves the conventional notions unchallenged.

Back to the question of purposeful paradox, it could be said that the filmmakers’ intent all along was to unveil the characters’ beliefs as misguided. This contention reduces the film’s wavering support for societal shortcuts from poor craftsmanship to prudent ploy. It also aggravates the advertising campaign from adolescent pandering to a disingenuous bait-and-switch. Rather than an ostensibly anti-establishment film produced by Viacom, “The Perfect Score” becomes a cookie cutter teen-ensemble story where everyone learns a lesson in the end.

At least Roy’s lesson nets him a gaggle of women. Score one for blazing, computer programming, Australian math whizzes everywhere.