From Paramount Pictures, the company that brought you crime classics "Double Indemnity," "Chinatown" and "The Godfather," comes "The Perfect Score." It's about a plot to steal the SAT. Yes, the SAT. Thus pass the glories of the world.
Not that the SAT, the standardized test that many colleges use as a kind of gatekeeper, isn't important in the lives of the million-plus high school kids who take it every year. But when the most entertaining thing about a film is the printed press material that mimics the look of the test, you know you're in trouble.
"Perfect Score" may sound like it was made for a high school audience, but in fact, as written by Mark Schwahn and Marc Hyman & Jon Zack and directed by Brian Robbins ("Varsity Blues"), the PG-13 film is so tepid it will likely appeal most to middle- and even grade-school kids who dream of the challenges of high school the way the characters here dream of college.
The protagonists of "The Perfect Score" — let's call them the Misfit Six — do share an attitude that is not exactly unknown in today's youth culture, and that is a joint sense of being aggrieved and/or entitlement.
These kids are irked at the SAT, which they nickname everything from Sick and Twisted to Secretly a Tease, for "messing with the rest of our lives." They call the test racist and unfair to certain groups, but these are far from closet humanitarians. What irks them is that this uncaring test has the temerity to stand in the way of their dreams.
The Misfit Six also fall neatly into classic teen pic categories. There are, in no particular order: the Brain, a.k.a. Anna ("Traffic's" Erika Christensen), No. 2 in her graduating class but scared that weak board scores will keep her from her parents' dream of Brown; the Athlete, a.k.a. Desmond (the NBA's Darius Miles), a kid who can do everything with the ball except autograph it and needs good board scores to get him into college; the Stoner, a.k.a. Roy (Leonardo Nam), the dope smoker who just happens to be like this amazing computer genius; the Rebel, a.k.a. Francesca (Scarlett Johansson), a to-the-barricades type who harbors a grudge against her wealthy womanizing father, a man who just happens to own the building the SAT home office is in — that is just so convenient; and the Regular Guys, a.k.a. Kyle (Chris Evans), who wants to study architecture at Cornell, and Matty (Bryan Greenberg), who wants to join his girlfriend at Maryland.
Frustrated by indifferent board scores, Kyle and Matty initiate the plan to "borrow" the test answers and insure their futures against the depredations of an indifferent universe.
Together, these six put together an elaborate heist scheme that, not a major surprise, doesn't go quite as planned. Still, there is time for romance to flourish between the conspirators, and any plot, no matter how weak, is better than the clumsy moments of would-be comedy that periodically clutter up the film.
As forgettable as the humor is the film's predictable portrayal of adults as clueless, overbearing cretins. In a dramatic atmosphere like this, it's no wonder that even Johansson, so memorable in "Lost in Translation" and "The Girl With the Pearl Earring," can never manage to get her bearings.
Like many studio films, "The Perfect Score" wants to have it both ways, wants to please the kids who think the SAT is unfair while not exactly condoning outright robbery as an acceptable lifestyle choice or way to solve your problems.
That leads to some convoluted plot developments and lines of pseudo-wisdom like this from stoner Roy: "A lot of people think these questions are difficult. These questions all have answers."
Words to live by.
'The Perfect Score'MPAA rating: PG-13 for language, sexual content and some drug referencesTimes guidelines: A lot of stoner humorErika Christensen...AnnaChris Evans...KyleBryan Greenberg...MattyScarlett Johansson...FrancescaDarius Miles...DesmondLeonardo Nam...Roy Paramount Pictures presents, in association with MTV Films, a Roger Birnbaum, Tollin / Robbins production, released by Paramount. Director Brian Robbins. Producers Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman, Brian Robbins, Mike Tollin. Executive producer Donald J. Lee, Jr. Screenplay by Mark Schwahn and Marc Hyman & Jon Zack, story by Marc Hyman & Jon Zack. Cinematographer Clark Mathis. Editor Ned Bastille. Costume designer Melissa Toth. Music John Murphy. Production designer Jaymes Hinkle. Art director Sandra Tanaka. Set decorator Johanne Hubert. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes. In general release.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times