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The Perfect Score

I used to really like teen movies. A few years after I graduated high school, teen flicks enjoyed a brief renaissance. American Pie, Can't Hardly Wait, and 10 Things I Hate About You all came out at a time when I was coming to terms with my high school experience and trying to move on. I wouldn't say they profoundly impacted my post high school career, but they certainly helped put things into perspective, and I enjoyed them tremendously.

I dunno if it's just me getting older, and developing a more critical mind, or what…but teen comedies ain't what they used to be. Remember the good old days of Pretty In Pink, The Breakfast Club, Say Anything - hell, even Better Off Dead if you were into the zanier side? They were great movies all, with good characters and witty rich writing.

But of course I'm probably waxing nostalgic over something that really has no bearing. True, The Perfect Score is a teen flick, but unlike the aforementioned gems, it's not a movie about teen relationships. It's a heist movie. It's The Breakfast Club Commits a Felony. But is it too much to ask that my teen movie come with a little cleverness, credibility, and maybe a dash - just a dash mind you - of morality?

I feel like such a dork saying that, but cripes…glorification of sex and poop that it was, even American Pie had a sense of right and wrong. Nice guys got the girls, and the jerk drank semen-spiked beer. Come-uppance was delivered and all was right with the world.

The Perfect Score has NONE of this…but I'm getting ahead of myself.

So here's how it goes: best friends Kyle and Matty, (Chris Evans and Bryan Greenberg, respectively) do horribly on their SATs and decide to break in to the Princeton testing center and steal the answers to the SAT re-test. Along the way they bring in Scarlet Johanssen's Francesca, whose daddy owns the building, Erica Christianson's Anna, the over-achiever who froze under pressure and blew the test, obligatory stoner Roy (Leonardo Nam), and Desmond the school basketball star (real NBA player Darius Miles -- keep the day job) whose face seems to be carved from wood for all the expression it has.

All of them have their own reasons for wanting to do well on the SAT, and to the movie's credit, none of them are particularly far-fetched.

Matty needs a high enough score to attend the college his girlfriend is at, Kyle desperately wants to attend Cornell for architect school, and Anna is feeling the family pressure to get into Brown. It's easy enough to put yourself into these kids' heads as they wrestle with the decision to steal the answers, but it veers into uncomfortable territory when they try to justify their actions to themselves.

"The tests aren't fair," crows Kyle, "They don't measure your worth." Lame reason after lame reason is put forth, and eventually they all convince themselves that if they can get away with it, it wouldn't be wrong.

I suppose it's a function of a heist movie that the main players know what they're doing is wrong, but they do it anyway because the rewards outweigh the risks…which is great when the heroes are taking a casino for millions of dollars, as in Ocean's 11. It doesn't hold water, though, when stealing test answers, because the stakes just aren't high enough. How can we sympathize with these affluent upper-middle class kids who are cheating to get into the best college when their parents can afford to send them to any college they can get into?

Caution, slight spoiler ahead….

So they achieve their goal, surprised? But they decide not to use their crib sheets, because they decide they don't need them after all. But they make that decision not because cheating is wrong, but because they've grown as people and can stand on their own. Of course the fact that they've seen most of the test in advance anyway, and have a heads up in knowing what's on there, doesn't qualify as cheating. Noooo. It also doesn't stop Stoner Roy from passing out answers in the boys' bathroom. These kids made the right decision for the wrong reason, and it leaves a sour taste in my mouth.

I also think it probably wasn't the best move to have Roy narrate the thing. There was some comic value to it, but it was overshadowed by the difficulty I had deciphering his strange stoner dialect. And though all of the leads are attractive personable people, with the exception of Scarlett Johanssen none of them seem to have any depth beyond what the shallow script provides.

I won't bore you with the details of the actual plot to steal the answers. It's stupid and completely implausible, and I'm rather offended that it worked as well as it did. Note to writers: Just because your conspirators are in high school, that doesn't mean your caper can be Dick and Jane. If your heroes are going to half-ass it, then you have no business letting them get away with it. Okay. I said it. I'm done.

Some points for a few vaguely humorous moments, and Scarlett Johanssen, oh and for some reason I found Bryan Greenberg ridiculously cute…but I wouldn't actually recommend spending money on this.

400 on the verbal/250 on the math


Marin Carpenter

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