(c) 2004 Ray Wong
A cross between The Breakfast Club and Ocean 11, The Perfect Score is a film about group of eclectic high school seniors taking on a heist. Instead of money or gold, the prize here is the coveted answers to the upcoming SATs.
Although the movie blatantly compares itself to The Breakfast Club (in dialogue and characterization), its premise actually resembles that of Better Luck Tomorrow (2002) in which a group of Asian-American students dabbled in crime to escape their presumed perfection. By George, even the movie posters look almost identical. However, The Perfect Score strives to be sweet and uplifting in ways that the other film did not. It could be a good or bad thing, depending on your perception of what a good movie should be.
Kyle (Evans, Not Another Teen Movie) is an all-American “okay” student (with a GPA of 3.7) from Princeton, NJ, who has a big problem: he plans to go to Cornell but his SAT score is short of the 1340 required. As the re-test approaches and he finds himself running out of time to prepare, he concocts a plan to steal the answers from ETS, the company responsible for creating and safe-keeping the test.
Eventually he enlists a team of five very different (of course!) seniors: Matty (Greenberg, A Civil Action), his underachieving friend; Anna (Christensen, Traffic), the straight-A student who doesn’t seem to get it right; Francesca (Johansson, Lost in Translation), the rich but rebellious girl whose father happens to own the building where EST is located; Desmond (Miles, Van Wilder), the basketball star who is at risk of losing his scholarship; and Roy (Nam, Hacks), a last-in-the-class doofus who hides his genius behind a bong. Together, this sextet devise an almost-perfect plan to steal the answer to the SATs. Of course, along the way, things go wrong and they learn valuable lessons and form everlasting friendships and, perhaps, even find love.
In many ways, the film is very predictable and we know, from the beginning, how it is going to end. What save it are the six very likeable actors (think Friends). Johansson, red-hot from Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring, is consistently good. Christensen loses her edginess in Traffic but retains the “perfect girl-next-door” charm. The rest of the cast delivers believable and sweet performances.
The standout belongs to the comic-relief of Nam, whose pot-smoking horn-dog of a computer whiz is hilarious, breaking away from the Asian stereotypes (on the other hand, his math and computer skills put him right back into those stereotypes). The characters seem to have a lot of heart, and more dimensions than those in a typical teen movie, making it enjoyable for all ages. The actors also have tremendous chemistry together. You really believe that they care about each other.
While the plot and characters may lack certain edginess and complexity, the direction (by Robbins, Varsity Blue) is brisk. There are nice moments, between the action, when we find out more about the characters and how they bond with each other. We get a glimpse, however brief, of whom these people are, and what is important to them. Through this experience, they all find their ways – they are all individuals, no matter how these standardized tests would reduce them to mere numbers. It is also about team-work – the sum is always bigger and better than the parts.
These are nice lessons, and the predictable yet sweet ending reminds us that good things can happen to good people, as long as you know who you are and what you want. In a world full of cynicism and despair, this film offers some hope about our youth. Even if it is far from being perfect.
Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Erika Christensen, Chris Evans, Darius Miles, Leonardo Nam, Bryan Greenberg
Director: Brian Robbins
Writers: Marc Hyman, Jon Zack
MPAA Rating: PG13 for violence, sexual content, language and drug use
Script – 6
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 6
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Total – 6.8 out of 10