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A handful of high-school students struggle to make it through senior year without dying in this manic satire of teen-themed slasher flicks and youth comedies. Riley (Shanley Caswell) is a clever but cynical social outcast at Grizzly Lake High School, and she's the unrequited love object of Sander (Aaron David Johnson), who is even less popular and more sexually frustrated than she is. Meanwhile, ironically named hipster Clapton (Josh Hutcherson) is head over heels for Ione (Spencer Locke), a beautiful but self-obsessed cheerleader. All four are waiting out their final year of high school, but it's anyone's guess if they'll see graduation, as a serial killer known as CinderHella is on the loose and preying on Grizzly Lake's student body. The principal (Dane Cook) is certain CinderHella is a disgruntled student and figures he can keep the prom from turning into a bloodbath by putting the likely suspects in all-day detention on the day of the big dance, but obviously that doesn't go as he planned. Meanwhile, various students struggle with shape-shifting, contract flesh-eating diseases, discover time travel, and fall victim to a gang making porn videos on school grounds.
Joseph Kahn's Detention moves at an absurd pace and dares anyone above 25 to keep up. Despite box-office obstacles like a rating that technically prohibits much of its target demo from seeing it, the picture feels commercial enough to find a cult audience.
Announcing its excess of formal cleverness from the start, the movie introduces a hyperbolically bitchy student amid a flurry of on-screen text and direct address, only to have the text continue, and provide snarky commentary as she is comically murdered by a slasher dressed as a mutilated prom queen. (Her name, we later learn, is CinderHella.)
We shift quickly to Grizzly Lake High, a bustling school populated with a familiar ensemble: smart-but-clumsy Riley (Shanley Caswell), skateboarding hipster Clapton (Josh Hutcherson), blonde alpha-girl Ione (Spencer Locke), and loser Sander (Aaron David Johnson), who pines for Riley.
The densely woven, pop-culture-stuffed script is impossible to summarize tidily, but operates largely on tropes winkingly borrowed from other movies: The ‘90s-obsessed Ione undergoes a Freaky Friday-like switch with her mother, sending her back to 1992; the school responds to CinderHella's murders, crazily, by forcing students believed to have information into a Saturday detention straight out of The Breakfast Club; eventually, catastrophe must be averted with a nerd-built time machine housed not in a Back to the Future Delorean but within the school's mascot, a stuffed bear.
Director Kahn, a music-video vet, doesn't only use this hubbub as an occasion for fast cutting, glossy production values and out-of-nowhere visual elements (like a sequence in which a bullying jock turns out to suffer a Jeff Goldblum-ish fly disease). He and co-screenwriter Mark Palermo also cram more smart-ass dialogue and meta-movie banter in than actors should be expected to deliver or audiences to digest.
It all comes off though. Detention also offers a couple of gags so strange (a funny movie-within-movie-within-et-cetera bit involving pirated slasher-porn flicks) they look like the filmmakers' bid to be seen as the next Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze. Lest that sounds too high-brow, there's more vomit in this movie than at a frat party catered with week-old sushi.