Thursday, October 15, 2009

FILM REVIEW: Assassination of a High School President

I had pretty low expectations for this film. After all, Mischa Barton hasn't been having a good year (see: "The Beautiful Life" Cancellation, her rehab stint, etc.). Thankfully, the film was centered around the criminally ignored Reece Thompson (Rocket Science), who plays a cross between Anton Yelchin in Charlie Bartlett and Joseph Gordon Levitt in Brick—a dork who takes his investigations pretty seriously.

The indie noir stayed true to the basic guidelines of the mystery genre. It had the cynical and informative voiceover, the underdog detective, the scumbag suspects, the bribed informants, the law bearing down on him (in the form of a principal), a double cross, and even a femme fatale. Thompson plays sophomore Bobby Funke, which everyone in school pronounces as "funky." He's a tortured soul, who spends most of his time uncovering school secrets, like how everyone cheats on their Spanish exams, which is unfortunate considering how hilariously unusual their teacher (Josh Pais) is.

The film started off seemingly normal, with Funke's determination to get into Northwestern's summer Journalism writing program. One problem: He's never finished an article. Lucky for him, the high school paper's editor Clara (Melonie Diaz from A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints) has a soft spot for his dorky charm. She assigns him the simple task of writing a profile on the student body president Paul Moore (Patrick Taylor), a super smart jock that all the ladies love, including the girl of Funke's dreams, Franchesca (Barton).

But the simple profile morphs into a story about Paul using a mid-game injury as an opportunity to steal the SATs from the principal's safe and eliminate his expected imperfect score. The story makes Funke a school hero and a God amongst the misfits. Franchesca starts paying him a lot of attention and he's pretty much guaranteed the spot in the Northwestern program, barring a few fact-checking queries. Unfortunately, Funke barely scored a kiss from his dream girl before he realized that the story was all a ruse. Paul was framed. What started out as a simple assignment mutated into a tangled tale of money laundering, drug trafficking, incest, gambling, theft, seduction, and attempted murder.

The writers, Tim Calpin and Kevin Jakubowski, did an impressive job of keeping the dialogue and narration snippy and authentically immature. I like the little touches, from his constant chewing of gum, which replaces the iconic chain-smoking that usually serves as a detective's vice, and the frequent spurts of old-school colloquialisms. He was enough of a sleuth for us to buy lines like, "Clara Diaz, editor in chief, and one tough cookie...all I wanted was a taste." But he was also dorky enough to think lines like, "Friedrich Nietzsche said, 'What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.' Well, ten bucks says Nietzsche never got a swirly."

I also appreciated how non-cookie-cutter all of the characters were. Not every guy was simply underappreciated, douchey, or boy-next-door material. Some of the popular guys were abusive jerks, power-hungry manipulators, and even wannabe white-boy rappers, while some of the underlings were perverts, mysterious loners, gross weirdos, and just generally unlikeable. They were the sect of high school boys that most high school movies fail to illustrate. Funke's enemies, especially the surprisingly sinister Marlon Piazza (Luke Grimes from "Brothers & Sisters"), weren't just goons. They were ambitious businessmen. Meanwhile, Funke's friends represented the class clowns that blurt out disgusting things, mime humping the principal from behind, and moon the class when the teacher isn't looking. There was even a female outcast in their bunch, who embraced her promiscuity, exchanged inappropriate insults with the principal, and spent most of her time with stoners. They were the misfits that didn't necessarily have pocket-protectors or thick-framed glasses. They were genuine outsiders.

So while the film was mostly about corruption in the underbelly of high school cliques, it was also a subtle declaration that the misfits rule the school. The best line was actually recycled by Funke when he felt the need to burn his temptress with her own words, "Nobody's misunderstood Franchesca. That's just what people say when they don't like who they are." It's the classic case of the geeks against the gods, and like they say, "The geeks shall inherit the earth."

Watch the Trailer!

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