There was a day — oh, 60 or 70 years ago — when Paramount Pictures used to put out the classiest, most-sophisticated movies in the business. I still get a pleasant feeling when I see the star-encircled mountain on an old Lubitsch, Mamoulian, Sternberg, Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields or Mae West movie. Nowadays, the studio has a really cool new animated logo where the stars fall from heaven to festoon that old mountain — yet, more often than not, I groan when I see it. (It doesn’t help that this latest version made its debut on Britney Spears’ Crossroads.) However, when those falling stars are followed by the MTV logo, I not only groan, I start to question my career choice.
I had hoped that the studio’s latest collaboration might at least be painless, and for a time, this looked to be the case. Granted, I saw The Perfect Score right after I had sat through You Got Served, so that may have some bearing on why I kind of liked the first 10 minutes or so of the former. It seemed mildly clever, and there was some obvious intelligence at work in matters of camera placement. Sure, the hero/romantic lead Chris Evans (Not Another Teen Movie) is an absolute stick, and the story is warmed-over John Hughes for the new millennium. Yet it was not unpleasant, and it was considerably helped by Leonardo Nam (Nobody’s Perfect) as whiz kid/stoner Roy. Alas, all good things must come to an end — and the good things in The Perfect Score end long, long before the film’s 93 minutes do.
Somewhere around the 20-minute mark, I was convinced that the title was a typo, and they really meant The Perfect Snore. The idea of some high-school kids stealing the answers to the SAT is a workable premise for a passable youth-market caper-comedy, but the film wants to be more than that. It sets out to make a Statement — something that should have been obvious from just reading over director Brian Roberts’ credits.
The director of Hard Ball and one of the producers of Radio obviously has more lofty ambitions than mere comedy. Since the original story for The Perfect Score is credited to Marc Hyman and Jon Zack — who gave us, respectively, Osmosis Jones and Out Cold — it’s not hard to guess that Robbins was behind bringing in a third writer, Mark Schwan, to make the proceedings more “important.” The results are a retread of The Breakfast Club dressed up as a caper flick. Rather than a simple teen comedy, we get a Life Lesson. And, oh, what a lesson it is!
In essence, we learn that stealing the SAT answers is just wrong. When did MTV get so moral? And what happened to the supposed point of the movie?
The Perfect Score expends a lot of energy on the idea that the SAT is a money-making scam designed to amass school funding through impressive scores, while presenting us with a world where everyone is the same and one-size-fits-all. But suddenly the script decides that subverting this status quo isn’t right, and that we should all play by the rules, etc. This isn’t MTV, it’s Mister Rogers. Only it’s not even Mister Rogers, because it doesn’t put a happy face on things.
The Perfect Score recognizes that all is not as it should be, but encourages you to accept it anyway. The fact that the film is packaged with fresh-faced actors and bathed in one of those generic alt-rock soundtracks doesn’t make it hip. In the process, the movie trots out all the cliches of Hughesdom, with everyone having his or her good points and his or her personal heartbreak. And it all results in one gigantic ho-hum movie-going experience that feels as phony and generic as its undistinguished soundtrack.
This is the sort of movie that you just know star Scarlett Johansson — following her critic-lauded turns in Lost in Translation and Girl With a Pearl Earring — wishes had stayed where it’s been for a while: on the shelf. And if you decide to sit through The Perfect Score, you’ll wish that, too.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke