`Breakfast Club' wannabe falls short

`Perfect Score' has ingredients similar to 1985 hit

January 30, 2004|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Every generation deserves its Breakfast Club. This one can do better than The Perfect Score, even if its cast does include hot-young-actress-of-the-moment Scarlett Johansson.

The Breakfast Club, about a group of high school kids in detention fighting adults' condescending attitude toward them, was one of those seminal films that burns its way onto a generation's psyche, a clarion call for understanding and identity, a plea by a younger generation for its elders to give them a break. Written and directed by John Hughes at the height of his abilities, its charismatic young cast (including Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy and Anthony Michael Hall) brought life to characters that 1985 audiences could identify with, and urged that young people be respected for who they are, not who their parents want them to be.

The Perfect Score tries to do the same but falls short in any number of ways. The cast doesn't impress, the story doesn't compel and the characters are too bland to make people remember them.

At the film's core is that bane of every college-bound teen's existence, the SATs, standardized tests that colleges use to decide if students are worthy or not. That puts a lot of pressure on kids often not prepared to handle it; who wants, at age 17, to be told the future depends on a bunch of questions about trains leaving New York an hour apart and traveling at a constant rate of speed?

Not Kyle (Chris Evans), a would-be architect with his heart set on attending Cornell. Unfortunately, his SAT scores don't even come close to what he needs, and Kyle is in full-panic mode. So, too, is his best friend, Matty (Bryan Greenberg), whose scores aren't high enough to get him into the University of Maryland (Go Terps!), where his girlfriend is enrolled.

With only a week to go before the re-test (not much lag time between test dates in this film's universe), Kyle and Matty hit on a plan, and it has nothing to do with studying, cramming or test-preparation classes. Realizing their good fortune in having a classmate, Francesca (Johansson), whose father owns the building where the SATs are prepared, they persuade her to join them in breaking into the offices and stealing the answers. Voila, instant 1400 composite score!

Problems arise when the trio, sometimes unwittingly, keep adding underachievers to their team of would-be burglars. By the time they're ready to go, six people are involved. Think they can pull it off?

Screenwriters Mark Schwahn, Marc Hyman and Jon Zack really ought to give Hughes some sort of credit, so obvious is their attempt to replicate The Breakfast Club. Like the earlier film, The Perfect Score brings together a disparate crew, each member embodying a classic teen archetype. There's the brain (Erika Christensen's Anna, who also fills the role of pampered princess), the jock (Darius Miles' Desmond), the loner (Johansson), the outcast rebel (Leonardo Ram's Roy), the good-natured slacker (Greenberg) and the underachiever (Evans). Each brings something to the group that it needs; the trick is ensuring that everyone not only gets along, but appreciates what the others can contribute.

Unfortunately, outside of Johansson, who brings to her role the same kind of disaffected, ethereal allure so appealing in Lost In Translation, the cast simply isn't talented or distinctive enough to make things gel. Evans and Greenberg's cookie-cutter good looks are matched by their approach to the roles, while Christensen isn't given anything to work with (her character is apparently the subject of too much parental pressure, but the onus never appears all that burdensome).

Ram's stoner, who likes referring to himself as The Ghost (because no one ever realizes he's around), serves as both narrator and comic relief; he never seems comfortable as either. Miles, who entered the NBA straight out of high school and is making his acting debut, seems committed to the role, and his Desmond is the most sympathetic among the characters. He's no actor, but he could be.

What's worse is that nothing these kids face seems all that tragic, and the shared problem that brings them together - frustration over a test with, admittedly, too much sway over their lives - isn't enough of a dramatic pretext to keep the interest level up. Plus, the heist they plan isn't all that exciting, either.

The Perfect Score

Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Erika Christensen

Directed by Brian Robbins

Rated PG-13 (language, sexual content, some drug references)

Released by Paramount

Time 97 minutes

Sun Score **

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