- Whiny kids who think stealing's smarter than studying.
Any review of this film written by a non-high schooler may miss the point, though. Frankly, those of us for whom the SAT is a distant memory may not find it in our hearts to be all that sympathetic to a bunch of whiny kids afraid to take a test. We may also wonder why an elaborate break-in at the local testing headquarters would be any less daunting than, say, studying. But hey, we're not the target demographic, so what do we know?
"SAT -- suck-ass test, that's what that stands for!" proclaims Roy (Leonardo Nam) at the movie's outset, before introducing us to the cast: Generic White Boys #1 and #2 (Chris Evans, Bryan Greenberg), Big Black Athlete (former Cavalier Darius Miles), Highly Strung Smart Beauty (Erika Christensen), and Rebellious Rich Girl Gone Goth (Scarlett Johansson, once again flaunting her underwear). Roy initially appears to be a bold attempt at an anti-stereotype -- a stupid Asian! -- but alas, it turns out that he's really good at math and video games. The rest of the time, he's being Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.
And while we're on the subject of '80s teen movies, we might as well note that The Breakfast Club is also conspicuously name-checked, which only serves to remind anyone with a memory or a VCR/DVD player that you could be watching something better -- it's the visual equivalent of that irritating "Darling Nikki" cover by the Foo Fighters, or 311's tuneless rendition of The Cure's "Love Song." Fittingly enough, the movie's actually funny when it references more current touchstones, as when Johansson derisively refers to our two white-bread heroes as "Dawson" and "Pacey," or when Roy fantasizes about his ambition to become Blanka, the beast-man character from the Street Fighter games (he's wrong to refer to Blanka as "half-lizard," but never mind).
But anyway, about that good movie struggling to get out. That'd be the one in which the characters would be given room to breathe, and less experienced actors like Greenberg and Miles might have a chance to make more of an impact next to the relatively heavyweight thespians, Johansson and Christensen, or beside the broad caricature embodied by Nam. The perpetually stoned Roy appears to be a favorite with advance audiences, but while he works as a character, the decision to have him narrate the movie is a disastrous one. No doubt it was a call prompted by test screenings, which would be ironic for a movie arguing that test scores are no measure of a person's substance, but there you go. As it stands, some decent character back-story is ruined by speedy music, sloppy editing, and Nam's slurred voice-over.
Once the gang actually gets together and infiltrates the corporate tower, things get fun. Director Brian Robbins (Varsity Blues) manages some genuine suspense here, and the character interactions feel real, even though odd groupings of this sort don't usually happen in a cliquish high school environment. It's a little too convenient -- and annoying -- that the white boys are clearly destined to get the girls while the minorities remain chaste, but it's to the credit of both lead actresses that they make the romances believable.
Occasionally, Matthew Lillard wanders onto the set as if from another movie, acting like a total moron. As Evans's older screw-up of a brother, Lillard initially appears to be mentally handicapped, but no one ever actually says that he is or provides any reasonable explanation for his annoying antics. No doubt he's just doing a favor for a friend -- director Robbins also helmed Lillard's Summer Catch -- but his friend might have been more favored by the Scooby-Doo star's absence. Either Lillard had one too many Scooby Snacks prior to shooting, or he's simply competing with his own established body of work to create the most brain-dead character ever to appear onscreen, but whatever the case, he doesn't belong in this flick. One stoned doofus is sufficient.