THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


SAT, one of the characters tells us, stands for “suck-ass test.” It’s hard to argue with that sort of logic. Who among us doesn’t remember the anxiety the SAT test produced? Somehow, the idea of scholastic aptitude being reduced to a number, which can then determine the quality of the college one gets in to, remains a form of psychological torture. Parents fork over millions of dollars each year for study guides and “SAT preparation classes” designed to give their children a leg up on the exam. What’s most frustrating – if you have ever read one of those study guides – is that the answers can theoretically be obtained even if you don’t understand the questions. There’s a so-called “SAT code” that can be broken. I’m sure many teenagers have fantasized about just stealing the answers and, lo and behold, that’s exactly what happens in The Perfect Score.

Imagine a heist being committed by the Breakfast Club and that’s the film. The six main characters are comprised of basic teen-movie stereotypes. Kyle (Chris Evans) is the jock who has always dreamed of going to Cornell, but his SAT scores aren’t up to the university’s standards. Anna (Erika Christensen) is an overachiever who can’t come to terms with the fact that she’s only the salutatorian and not the valedictorian. Matty (Bryan Greenberg) wants to get into a particular college so that he can be with his girlfriend. Desmond (Darius Miles) is a basketball star who needs to get into the right college so he can pursue his dreams of playing for the NBA. Francesca (Scarlett Johannson) is an outcast, a rebel. And Roy (Leonardo Nam) is a stoner.

All of them have good reasons for wanting to ace the SAT. (Well, perhaps not Roy; he just wants to get high.) Kyle hatches a plan to break into the company that manufactures the test. Conveniently for the plot, Francesca’s father owns the building that the company is housed in. All they have to do, Kyle figures, is walk in, find the answers, and leave. Naturally, it’s not that simple.

The Perfect Score begins promisingly by taking the SAT to task. It’s well known that the exam has gender and racial biases, and there are very likely class biases as well. The early scenes take an appropriately critical view of the test and its misuse as a factor in determining college admissions (a flaw that has been somewhat corrected in the past decade). The movie is smart to toss these issues out there for its intended audience; certainly, many kids need to hear this message.

The cast is appealing too. All the actors here are likable and competent. I especially enjoyed the performance from Scarlett Johannson. Sure, this is fluff in comparison with her other recent work in Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring, but she shows a presence on-screen that is hard to ignore. She’s shaping up to be a major actress.

However, the longer the film goes on, the more the promise of those early scenes evaporates. For starters, much of the humor falls flat. There are only so many stoner jokes in the world, and most of them have been made ad nauseum. The same holds true for jokes about jocks. Or jokes about teen princesses, for that matter. When the story gets really desperate, it tosses in – get this – a Matrix parody! Gee, we haven’t seen that before, have we?

A more substantial problem is that the heist itself falls flat. Movie heists are supposed to be fast-paced. They are supposed to have a lot of action and suspense. The characters in The Perfect Score break into the building, then more or less just stay there. They sit around, open a few file drawers, try to guess a computer password, yadda yadda yadda. It’s just not exciting. The heist needed to crackle a lot more in order to sustain interest.

Without giving anything away, let me also say that the screenplay should have had more bite. Ultimately, it wants us to see that these are really good kids inside, despite the criminal activity they engage in. Sure, the flick is trying to send a morally and politically correct message to teenagers. It’s trying to tell them to be themselves, to do their best and not worry about anything else. Allow me to suggest that the message has been sent in the wrong manner – or at least in a manner incongruous to the movie’s theory. If you’re going to make the argument that the SATs are a corrupt, prejudiced, and immoral entity, then why should the story end with the characters abandoning their protest of that entity and giving into it? With a little more anti-authoritarian spirit, The Perfect Score might have been a rousing call to arms for a whole generation.

( out of four)

The Perfect Score is rated PG-13 for language, sexual content and some drug references. The running time is 1 hour and 34 minutes.

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