The major assertion in “The Perfect Score” is that the SAT is not a fair test because it is written by rich white men and therefore skews unfavorably away from women and minorities. I had not heard this argument before, but coming from the characters who inhabit the film, it sounds like an excuse for not studying. Quit your whining and get back to work, that’s what I say.
But, then, as I approach 30, I find I am no longer part of the generation targeted by this movie, which it will not surprise you to learn comes from MTV Films. It belongs to the genre of movies that urge viewers to fight the power, fight authority, fight everything, without giving them many good reasons for doing so. Why fight? ‘Cuz fightin’s cool, yo. And because MTV told you to (even though, ironically, MTV of 2004 is as much a part of The Establishment as the MTV of 1982 was trying to bring down. But I digress).
Our heroes are an eclectic mix of high school seniors with various reasons for dreading the upcoming SATs, prompting them to conspire to steal the test answers beforehand. Best friends and all-around Normal Guys Kyle (Chris Evans) and Matty (Bryan Greenberg) need particular scores in order to attend particular universities; Kyle, especially, wants to avoid the fate of his older, useless brother, played by the older, useless Matthew Lillard. Francesca (Scarlett Johansson) wants to bring down the unfair testing system. Anna (Erika Christensen) is No. 2 in her class, but she freezes up during tests. Desmond (Darius Miles) can get to St. John’s on a basketball scholarship, but he needs a high score on the SAT. And Roy (Leonardo Nam), a stoner and our freakish-looking narrator, overhears the answer-stealing plans and is thus brought into the group by default, even though he has no interest in doing anything other smoking pot for the rest of his life.
Kyle and Matty bring Francesca in because her father owns the office building where the test answers are kept. Thanks to her anarchic spirit and knowledge of the facility, they’re able to craft an “Ocean’s Eleven”-type plan to break in, locate the answers, and escape. Needless to say, things don’t go as smoothly as everyone hoped. But along the way, life lessons are learned and relationships are forged, in a very tidy, obvious sort of way.
I question the decision to cast Darius Miles — an NBA hoops player, not an actor — in a major role, given that he cannot act and can barely speak coherently. But giving marble-mouth Miles a run for his money in the Odd Performance category is Leonardo Nam as Roy, the latest attempted reincarnation of John Belushi’s “Animal House” character. He says and does a lot of things, and a few of them are so randomly weird that they get laughs. It’s sort of like swinging blindly at every single pitch: It’s ugly and ungraceful to watch, but a few base hits do come out of it.
The film is directed by Hollywood hack Brian Robbins, the man who directed “Hardball” (2001), “Ready to Rumble” (2000), “Varsity Blues” (1999) and “Good Burger” (1997), and who produced “Summer Catch” (2001) and “Radio” (2003). With “Perfect Score,” he continues to tell low-impact, ill-conceived stories in a most sloppy, uneven fashion. We’re supposed to laugh at all of Roy’s marijuana jokes, but then we’re supposed to take Desmond’s mom seriously when she tells Roy to get off the stuff. We’re supposed to root for the gang to successfully make off with the test answers, but then we’re supposed to agree with them later when they develop consciences.
I can’t help but feel like the movie’s REALLY all about damn-the-consequences hedonism, with that quick chaser of social responsibility thrown in at the last minute to make the producers feel good about themselves. It doesn’t go down well, this uneven mix, this attempt to appeal to teenagers’ base instincts while also teaching them lessons.
This fake concern for young people makes the film seem even more like the MTV product that it is. It’s about as useless as MTV, too, full of shiny objects and pretty people and almost entirely devoid of merit.
D (1 hr., 33 min.; )