Leave it to MTV Films, here partnered with Paramount, to come up with a movie that's kinetic in style, aimed directly at many different types of young characters, and empty-minded to the point of vacuity.
Sounds bad, but that last part isn't necessarily an entirely negative thing. To put a positive spin on it, The Perfect Score is tailored for audiences that don't need a lot of substance in their filmgoing experience.
The six high school seniors at the center of this fluff ball of a film's plot -- Kyle, Matty, Anna, Francesca, Desmond and Roy -- really are as different as can be, but they all have one thing in common: They need to take, or in some cases, re-take, the SATs. In case you have forgotten, those are the grueling classroom tests that every prospective college student goes through, the scores of which are ostensibly of utmost importance to the decision-makers who say yes or no to college applicants.
And as different as their personalities are, so too are their reasons for needing to ace their tests this time around. Some are serious, some are frivolous, one makes no discernable sense. Longtime pals Kyle (Chris Evans) and Matty (Bryan Greenberg) are "average" students who need good scores to improve their first-pick chances. Kyle wants admittance to a school that will get him into a career as an architect. Matty needs to get into the school where his year-older girlfriend is already studying. Anna (Erika Christensen) is an "A" student but always seems to stumble when it comes to testing. Desmond (Darius Miles) is a great athlete but a lousy student, who knows that he's getting by on his sports talent and needs to do better to succeed in the world. Francesca (Scarlett Johansson) has no worries about her first scores, but thinks it would be fun to be in on a heist. Roy (Leonardo Nam) -- who never bothered to take the test the first time around -- is comfortably ensconced as last in his class, smokes too much pot and thinks that taking part in a heist would be a great way to make friends.
What's with all this heist business? Well, it's Matty's idea, one he comes up with when he and Kyle realize just how desperate they are to do well this time around. His plan is to break into the building that's home to the company in charge of the SAT tests, steal a copy, figure out the answers in advance and have nary a worry in the world come test day.
The way they all eventually come together to plan the operation is a bit of a stretch, but once that's over, the film can get on with presenting some freewheeling comedy and a dose of seriousness: Some members of the group are desperate to succeed.
Almost all of the comic relief comes from Roy, probably the most stoned of screen characters since Sean Penn's Jeff Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. As an actor, Nam is a pretty funny guy, spouting off purple haze-induced blatherings and sporting a permanent smile. But he also plays a lot of it over the top to the point of embarrassment, particularly in a scene -- which is puzzling even for being in this film -- in which Vanessa Angel (Kingpin) drops in for a couple of uncomfortable minutes simply to be ogled and leered at by him.
The serious stuff enters at the points where the script condemns drugs, insensitive parents and all forms of standardized testing. But the filmmakers keep that side of it muted, and the light side up front. As a result, the movie just waffles. This is supposed to be about a group of rebellious kids, ready to take some big risks to get what they want, but they come across as simply normal, and whatever trouble they might get themselves into really needs much more of an edge, much more of a sense of danger about it.
There is some zippy, surreal editing, and flashes of fantasy sequences (most likely the MTV contributions). It's nice to see Johansson finally playing someone her own age and identifiable as a real person (though she could do with a little less bright red on those big lips). This may be the first time in dialogue history that the line "you look like a slut" is meant as a compliment. But it's much too late in the game for even the briefest of Matrix spoofs, which, in this case, brings the film momentarily to a grinding halt. It's capped by a neat and tidy ending that flattens everything that had come before, leaving the film as something to be forgotten, even while you're watching it.