Saturday, March 3, 2012

Scarlett Johansson Wows Me (For Only The Second Time) With The Perfect Score!

The Good: Interesting plot, Funny, Well-acted, DVD bonus features
The Bad: Light on character
The Basics: Funny and surprisingly not entirely predictable, The Perfect Score uses a young(er) Scarlett Johansson well as a disaffected girl who helps steal the S.A.T. answers!

Say what you will, but sometimes surprisingly good movies come out of unlikely sources. Every now and then, I find myself surprised by the quality of a movie that seems like it would underwhelm me. MTV, for example, does not have a great track record of making films that are anything more than fluffy entertainment for teens. While they might have a niche market with stoners and Gen X and Y folks who have short attention spans, MTV Films has yet to create an enduring piece that will survive in the annals of great films.

Still, they have made a surprisingly solid film with The Perfect Score. Despite the obvious double-entendre in the title, The Perfect Score - a film about high school Seniors stealing the S.A.T. answers from the manufacturer - is wonderfully unpredictable in many ways. Sure, there are some obvious reversals and romantic subplots, but the real surprise is that a film starring Chris Evans - arguably the low point of The Fantastic Four movies on the acting front - could be as good as this ends up being. As well, for those who know of my general boredom and loathing of the works of Scarlett Johansson, The Perfect Score garnered a groan from me the moment I realized the hot chick in it was being played by Johansson, but this ends up as the second work she stars in that I would actually enthusiastically recommend.

Kyle has a dream of being an architect and as he nears graduation from high school, he realizes that despite his talents in all of the right areas, he might not make it to Cornell's architect school because of his poor performance on the pre-S.A.T.s. Kyle and his love-struck sidekick, Matty, (who is dating a woman attending the University of Maryland and needs to get in there to continue his relationship) become convinced that the only way they'll get into their respective colleges is by stealing the answers to the S.A.T.s and acing the exam. As luck would have it, they live near the center where the tests are made and the daughter of a high-level executive at the company is a discontent classmate of theirs. Kyle and Matty enlist Francesca, who is skeptical about the plan but seems content to go along with it anyway. The group is joined by the class stoner, Roy, who overhears Kyle and Matty talking about the job while getting high in the bathroom.

After a dry run that finds Kyle accidentally shredding the answer key, the class salutatorian and the high school's most promising jock join the team and a better plan for stealing the plans is devised. The sextet breaks into the company after hours and the caper puts them all in jeopardy of losing everything . . . or acing the exam that will determine their futures!

The Perfect Score is fun and it succeeds best when it is not talking down to its audience. Unfortunately, the target audience does appear to be the stoner crowd and young people in general. This compels the writers to have the class salutatorian, Anna, define herself as "the second one" as opposed to "salutatorian" when Francesca berates her for being valedictorian. We can handle a higher level of diction and it undermines Anna's character - who is an overachiever under a lot of pressure from her parents to perform - that she does not speak with a better vocabulary.

Conversely, no one is quite as convincing in their character as Darius Miles as Desmond Rhodes. Miles plays the basketball player looking to get into college on an athletic scholarship, but has coasted for years and is looking at the S.A.T.s as a potentially devastating blow to his potential career. Miles wanders through the film like a zombie and when he speaks, his lines are seldom intelligible, perfectly portraying a jock who has coasted as Desmond.

Impressive, though, are the talents of the rest of the cast, though one has to feel bad for Erika Christensen, who plays Anna Ross. Just as in Traffic, Christensen is used as a poor man's Julia Stiles, so much so that I was shocked when the closing credits rolled and the actress was Christensen instead of Stiles. Director Brian Robbins uses her exactly as any other director would use Stiles and to her credit, she fills the niche perfectly. Anna is, in many ways, an archetype as opposed to an actual character - the highly-pressured girl whose family has her future charted out for her - but she adds nervous ticks like lip bites and blank stares that work for her and her character.

The humor in The Perfect Score is almost entirely delivered by Leonardo Nam as Roy, who narrates the film. This is not exactly the type of movie that demands a narrator, but Roy sets the plot up well. In addition, he is a pretty skeezy stoner and as a result, he is able to deliver the most absurd moments - like attempting to seduce an executive with the lamest moves possible - quite well. Most of the comedy is made up of uncomfortable awkward moments and blank stares being interrupted by the delivery of absurd lines. There is a little physical humor in the movie, most of which is presented by Nam. He manages it well and he's funny as he runs along trying to keep his baggy pants on.

Equally convincing are Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson as Kyle and Francesca. Evans adeptly plays along the cliches of teenagers feeling like their entire future is about to be decided out of their control and he plays Kyle with a wonderful self-absorbed quality that makes his character seem very much like the teenager he is supposed to be. But it is Scarlett Johansson who performs above and beyond. Having watched a lot of Johansson's works, The Perfect Score offers her the chance to present one of her most expressive performances of her career. Ironically, given the chance to play more open roles, Johansson seems to shine when she is playing repressed outsiders. Here, though, she has a muted performance that is filled with a dry with that perfectly compliments her character's outrageous outfits.

What makes The Perfect Score worth going back for are the bonus features on the DVD as well as the fact that the movie is far less predictable than one might have initially guessed. On DVD, the movie has deleted scenes, a commentary track and featurettes that explore the development of the film. The movie is fun and funny and it has a surprising amount of depth for a movie built on cliches.

That, of course, makes it original and originality deserves praise. And attention.

For other works with Chris Evans, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Captain America: The First Avenger
Fantastic Four: Rise Of The Silver Surfer
Fantastic Four
Not Another Teen Movie


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized list of all the movies I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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