Imagine an unholy mashup of Heathers, Back to the Future, Donnie Darko, a Lady Gaga music video, Saw 4, and Thomas Pyncheon's postmodern novel The Crying of Lot 49. Then add in the fast-patter, pop-reference humor of Community. Now you are beginning to understand only one tiny part of the pleasing madness that drives scifi indie flick Detention, in widespread release today. This under-the-radar movie, which wowed audiences at South by Southwest, is a genre mashup unlike anything you've ever experienced — it's a ritalin-fueled whirl of bizarre stories about aliens, time travel, body-switching, and apocalypse. And it will make you laugh, when it's not overwhelming you with its Inception-level intricacies.
Detention is about a loosely-connected group of kids at a high school where everybody is obsessed with Bittorrent, 1990s pop culture, and music blogs. Riley is a the school dork, always slipping on the floor and forced to play the giant teddy bear mascot at games. She's got a crush on Clapton, who just wants to be an underground music blogger — and he's got a crush on Ione, who just wants to be hot. Meanwhile, a character called Cinderhella from a series of torture porn movies ala Saw has come to life and is murdering random students at their school. Plus, Principal Verge is threatening to throw Clapton out of school and is making everybody's lives miserable.
Meanwhile, one of the school jocks is actually a mutant who grew up with a television attached to his hand; an alien bear time machine is causing everybody to zap back and forth between 2011 and 1992, and for some reason Riley's life is starting to look like a fucked up combination of My So-Called Life and Juno. Oh and also? The world is going to end in 1992 if everybody who is stuck in Saturday detention can't stop it in time for Prom. Luckily, as I said earlier, they have a time machine — and the ability to download pirated pre-release copies of movies that will give them hints about their future.
And that's just scratching the surface of this movie's deep weirdness. Though there is a plot of sorts, the movie is more like a series of vignettes where different genres collide into each other and characters morph from one iconic pop culture character into another. The movie is even divided up into mini-stories that give us background on most of the major characters' freaky origins. Most of the time, this movie will leave you feeling like you've just been dunked into the media-saturated imaginations of Troy and Abed from Community — which is to say, it will make you dizzy, happy, and slightly high on meta-text.
That said, there are definitely a lot of scenes where Detention director Joseph Kahn is trying way too hard to be smart and cute. He even has characters making fun of his first movie, Torque, and some of the music videos he directed for everyone from Britney Spears to Lady Gaga. What I mean is that this movie goes a bit too Juno sometimes. Plus, your mileage may vary on the post-racial irony jokes about how the only Asian character is a geek named Toshiba who spends most of the movie hanging upsidown — I assume in reference to Sixteen Candles' abysmal Long Duk Dong character.
But these failings are more than made up for by the sheer insanity that drives many of Detention's subplots, including a whole conspiracy involving anti-vegetarians from Newfoundland. Detention is the perfect movie if you're looking for something off the beaten track that may become your new obsession. If it doesn't completely overwhelm your synapses, it will make you stronger.