Archive for Thursday, January 29, 2004

Perfect Score’ shows personality aptitude

(PG-13) **1/2

January 29, 2004

From the behavior of the high schoolers in "The Perfect Score," one
is led to believe that taking the SAT is as momentous a life event as
getting married or experiencing the birth of a child. With that
mindset it's no wonder these teens will do anything in order to notch
a 1500 ... including stealing the answers.

"The Perfect Score" is not really a comedy or a heist movie, although
its basic outline makes it seem like a comedic heist. The film is
actually a character study about how the lingering threat of the SAT
system has corrupted some basically good kids into doing things they
ordinarily wouldn't.

"From day one they tell us to be unique, to have a face. Then they
give us all a standardized test," rants Kyle (Chris Evans).

All his life Kyle has yearned to be an architect, and the only way he
can get into Cornell is to ace the SAT. Together with his less
ambitious friend Matty (Bryan Greenberg), who wants to attend the
University of Maryland to be with his estranged girlfriend, the pair
hatch a plan to pilfer the answers from the Princeton Testing Center.

Before long, their accomplices have grown to include a
top-of-her-class honor student (Erika Christensen) who froze while
taking the exams; an NBA prospect (Darius Miles) who needs the grades
to play for St. Johns; and an impulsive pothead (Leonardo Nam) who
stumbles onto the plot and wants in on the action.

The gang's trump card is Francesca (Scarlett Johansson), whose
philandering father has keys to the building. The rebellious rich kid
doesn't care specifically about the SAT as much as she enjoys the
prospect of committing a crime under her dad's nose.

Writers Marc Hyman and Jon Zack don't just use the SAT as a backdrop
for a caper movie, they genuinely obsess about it. The screenplay not
only dissects the history of the phenomenon (Did you know it was
originally an abbreviation for Scholastic Aptitude Test but now
stands for nothing other than the letters SAT?), but also presents a
lot of tangled arguments to support how biased the test can be to
certain groups.

All of this info would be immaterial if the viewer didn't connect
with the characters, and the writers and director Brian Robbins
("Varsity Blues") are usually able to make that happen.

It's no surprise that Johansson shines. Between "Lost in Translation"
and "The Girl With the Pearl Earring," the graceful star has already
been involved with projects that earned six Oscar nominations this
year. In typical fashion, Johansson brings an ethereal edginess to
her role. (If "The Perfect Score" seems to be a somewhat lightweight
career choice for the nearly A-list actress, it's because it was
filmed almost two years ago.)

Also quite convincing is Miles. The athlete was actually drafted out
of high school by the L.A. Clippers and is now starting to make a
name for himself in pro basketball. It's no surprise that he looks
authentic in his dunking scenes, but he also brings an unforced
humanistic touch to the role. He seems more real BECAUSE he's not a
very slick actor.

The film's most problematic character is Roy, who also serves as the
narrator of the tale. In comparative terms he fulfills the Jeff
Spicoli role from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" - he's a stoner
whose crass behavior and sincere cluelessness grant him the lion's
share of the good lines. Viewers will either find him hilarious or
irritating. That said, he manages to reveal a lot more about himself
as the story progresses. By the end of the flick, he's definitely
less of a caricature than when he started.

In many ways that applies to all six leads in "The Perfect Score,"
who are as archetypal at first glance as the kids in "The Breakfast

Although the comedy is often flat (wow is a "Matrix" parody ever
dated) and the heist scenes won't be accused of rivaling "Ocean's
Eleven," these characters do resonate. And it's satisfying how their
motivations change throughout the course of the film from a
one-dimensional pursuit for cold hard facts to soul-searchingmoments
of enlightenment.

As Roy says when explaining why he doesn't think taking the SAT is
all that hard: "These questions all have an answer."

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