[Screen It]

(2004) (Chris Evans, Erika Christensen) (PG-13)

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Drama: A group of six disparate and desperate high school students sets out to steal the SAT so that they can attain high scores and get what they want in their lives.
Kyle (CHRIS EVANS) is a high school student who wants to go to Cornell to study architecture, but doesn't have the SAT scores to get in. His best friend, Matty (BRYAN GREENBERG), wants to attend the University of Maryland to be with his girlfriend, but likewise comes up short when it comes to that test.

Accordingly, the two concoct a plan to steal the test from the nearby ETS building to insure their success. The only problem is that they somehow need to get in. That's where the rebellious Francesca (SCARLETT JOHANSSON) comes in. It seems her father owns the building and since the two don't get along, she'd be happy to help.

Kyle also wants Anna (ERIKA CHRISTENSEN) to join in - primarily because he's interested in her - but Matty thinks it's a bad idea since she's the second smartest student in school and an overachiever at that. Even so, and despite her perfect GPA, she's nervous that she won't score high enough on the SAT to get into Brown like her parents are hoping.

Eventually joining them is stoner Roy (LEONARDO NAM) who doesn't care about the test but thinks the thievery will be fun when he accidentally overhears the plan. Rounding out the group is basketball star Desmond (DARIUS MILES) who could go straight to the pros, but has promised his mother he'll go to college first. The only problem is that he needs a certain score on the test and isn't sure he can get it.

As the various group members overcome their differences, they then plot to break into the ETS building, find and copy the SAT test and its answers, and thus ensure that their individual futures are set.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
Wouldn't you just know that you'd go and spend twelve years of your life reading, writing, studying and often overachieving, in an extracurricular sense, only to have one test undermine everything?

That's what happens to many a high school student when they face the SAT or equivalent tests that often determine their immediate collegiate future and more. Aside from spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on SAT prep courses or getting a brain transplant, what's a desperate high school student to do?

Why, they can always get their hands on the test, copy the answers and then cheat their way to success. That's the gist of "The Perfect Score," an odd and unsatisfying drama that will obviously draw comparisons to the John Hughes teen angst dramedy, "Breakfast Club."

That's not only because one of the characters here actually brings up that film in conversation, but also because its thematic structure is quite similar. Of course, while Molly Ringwald, Emilio Estevez and others were in detention, they didn't conspire to cheat the system.

What they did do, however, was overcome their high school strata differences and then learn something about themselves and each other in the process. The same holds true here in the screenplay penned by Mark Schwahn ("Whatever It Takes") and Marc Hyman ("Osmosis Jones") & Jon Zack ("Out Cold"), but in a less interesting or convincing fashion.

Like that earlier film, this one is populated by a cross section of high school students - the brain, jock, outsider, stoner, average kid and vanilla plain one. Yet, their assembly feels nothing short of contrived and clichéd. As does the overall film that comes off as an odd amalgamation of genre trappings.

Beyond the "B.C." material, there are the Mission Impossible type break-in and heist moments. Given the copious amount of screen time given to the planning and execution of said crime, it's disappointing that Brian Robbins' ("Hard Ball," "Ready to Rumble") inert direction renders all of that less than exciting or suspenseful.

There's also Leonardo Nam ("Nobody's Perfect," "Meridian") doing his best Sean "Jeff Spicoli" Penn impersonation, which at least makes him the most interesting character offered. Then there are a handful of fantasy moments including the umpteenth "Matrix" spoof that's not only out of place, but also extremely late to the game considering all of the other films that literally and figuratively have beat this one to the punch.

Finally, there's all of the railing against the system and especially the dreaded SAT. There are obviously some valid points behind such accusations. Yet, the fact that we don't care about any of the characters or feel their sense of plight and/or urgency about such matters severely lessens the impact of their arguments.

Beyond Nam's stoner portrayal, the likes of Scarlett Johansson ("Lost in Translation," "Girl With a Pearl Earring"), Erika Christensen ("Swimfan," "Traffic"), Chris Evans ("Not Another Teen Movie"), Bryan Greenberg ("A Civil Action") and Darius Miles (making his feature debut) are present to fulfill the quota of stereotypes needed for the standard cross-section of student archetypes.

Most disappointing are Christensen who showed so much promise in "Traffic" and especially Johansson who's slumming it here after two terrific portrayals in 2003. Unlikely to receive a passing score from either critics or viewers, "The Perfect Score" fails to make the grade. It rates as just a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed January 30, 2004 / Posted January 30, 2004

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