The Perfect Score
May 21, 2004
Billed as “The Breakfast Club meets Ocean’s Eleven,” The Perfect Score (2004) isn’t as good or as memorable as either one of these movies. It is a fairly standard comedy that exposes the hypocrisy of the SAT testing system and how it affects kids today. The movie is essentially an escapist fantasy tale that allows the audience to live vicariously through these characters as they stick it to the system.
Kyle (Evans) is an under-achiever overwhelmed by taking the SATs. He needs a score of 1430 to get into Cornell and achieve his dream of becoming an architect. His current score is well under that and he has no fallback schools. His best friend, Matty (Greenberg, who when agitated resembles Michael Rapaport at his manic best), dreams of going to the same school as his girlfriend but he too has fallen short of the score needed to get in. Faced with only two weeks to take the test again they decide to break into the offices where the answers are stored and steal them.
Kyle is apprehensive at first, but after seeing how his dumb, older brother (Lillard unsuccessfully channeling Jack Black’s character from Orange County) is stuck at home with their folks and with no future; he is convinced to go for it. But they quickly realize that they can’t do it alone. They persuade Francesca (Johansson whose character is introduced via a shot of her cherry-patterned panties), a rebel who believes that the SATs are biased and whose dad works for the company that has the answers.
Also along for the ride is Desmond (Miles), a star basketball player with lousy grades and a shot at the NBA if he can only get his scores up. Roy (Nam), a stoner-type, overhears Kyle and Matty’s scheme and so he’s in. Finally, Anna, one of the smartest students in school who feels pressured by her parents to do even better. She sees Kyle and Matty’s scheme as a way of sealing the deal.
The obvious model for this movie is Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven (2001) remake. Kyle and Matty assemble a large group to pull a heist on a seemingly impenetrable building with all sorts of high-tech security. Director Brian Robbins even tries to ape Soderbergh’s slick camerawork and the film’s soundtrack is very reminiscent of David Holmes’ trip-hop score for Ocean’s Eleven—albeit nowhere near as good.
And this is indicative of The Perfect Score in general—it wears its cinematic influences on its sleeve. There is yet another tired rip-off of a sequence from The Matrix (1999) and, at one point, Roy watches a scene from Michael Mann’s Heat (1995) and takes notes. The film lacks any kind of originality because it is too busy referencing other movies.
Perhaps the film’s biggest weakness is its screenplay that awkwardly inserts a “don’t do drugs” message partway through and plays out in a very predictable way. All of these kids aren’t really that bad and you know by film’s end they will have all learned a valuable life lesson like some kind of big budget after-school special. The movie does have a point—that SATs are not the best way to test the intelligence and aptitude of an individual—but tells it in such a clumsy, simple way that the message is rendered ineffective. Teachers tell their students to be unique and then decide their academic future with a standardized test.
Director Brian Robbins and one of the film’s many screenwriters, Mark Schwahn contribute an audio commentary that covers the nuts and bolts of the filmmaking process. Originally, the film’s voiceover was supposed to be Kyle’s but the character of Roy tested so well with audiences that they switched it his more irreverent point-of-view. Schwahn originally wrote the script as a drama with elements of a comedy but the final product flips this so that it is now a comedy with dramatic bits.
“Making of The Perfect Score” is pretty standard press kit stuff as the cast and crew are interviewed and talk enthusiastically about the movie. Mark Schwahn says that he tried not to write for any specific demographic but wanted to make a movie that would become someone’s favourite. Not surprisingly, Brian Robbins (who’s come a long way from his days as the rebel kid in the TV sitcom, Head of the Class) says that he was inspired by the ensemble teen movies of John Hughes.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.
The Perfect Score trots out the stereotypical characters (the jock with bad grades and the rebel who has a troubled family life) and does nothing to make them fresh or interesting. The cast does a fine job but really doesn’t have much to work with. It’s not that the film is all that bad, it just isn’t all that good either.