Had John Hughes chugged a Red Bull, snorted Pop Rocks, made a bubblegum-pop slasher pic in the mold of his 1980s teen comedies, and threw time-traveling and body-swapping into the mix, it might look something like “Detention.” Music videos being his forte, co-writer and director Joseph Kahn (after steering 2004’s awesomely fun, gleefully stupid biker-actioner “Torque” with efficiency) almost one-ups “Juno” and “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” with this fizzy, consistently original, relentlessly fun blast, which is as useless to categorize as “Donnie Darko.” Kahn and co-writer Mark Palermo go for broke, their arsenal spitballing out everything but the kitchen sink into a meta, apocalyptic sci-fi/horror/teen comedy concoction.
“Detention” is set in Grizzly Lake, a town where no one has been anywhere else, so it wouldn’t really matter if the world ended. Shanley Caswell plays Riley, a feminist, vegetarian-preaching misfit, biting into a burger every chance she gets after losing a debate to a Canadian and hobbling through life with one leg in a heavy cast. She has a crush on her friend, Clapton Davis (Josh Hutcherson), the cool kid who skateboards down the halls with a neon fanny pack, but he’s dating ’90s-reference-dropping cheerleader Ione (Spencer Locke). There’s also Riley’s Ducky-like acquaintance Sander Sanderson (Aaron David Johnson), beefed-up bully Billy Nolan (Parker Bagley), and the high school’s hardheaded Principal Verge (Dane Cook).
Oh, and yes, there’s a serial killer based on the latest horror movie franchise, “Cinderhella,” killing teenagers that are too cool for school, starting with queen bitch Taylor Fisher (Alison Woods). In one of the film’s most slyly amusing send-ups of horror movies (particularly “Saw”), Cinderhellaâ€”a grotesque cross between Lady Gaga and Leatherfaceâ€”plants a glass slipper in the stomach of a prom queen. But that there’s a killer on the loose is almost incidental.
“Detention” also finds time for plot points not unlike “Three O’Clock High” (there’s a bully but with mutant fly blood), a “Freaky Friday” swap between mother and daughter, and a time-traveling stuffed bear. As a narrative, it’s pretty incoherent, but who cares when there’s a talking alt-band poster, Jean-Luc Godard-ian intertitles, smash cuts, on-screen text messages, and ’90s hits like Hanson’s “MMMBop.”
Just in the first minute, the film establishes its snarky voice, hyperactive pacing, and sensory overload of razzle-dazzle. Queen bitch Taylor Fisher (Alison Woods) is victim #1, breaking the fourth wall and telling us that anyone that’s anyone will be seeing the new “Cinderhella” sequel. From then on, it moves at the frenetic speed of a pinball, leaving slow-pokes in the dust and requiring multiple viewings just to catch all the stuffing and every witty line, joke, and reference. Whether it’s fun or exhausting, one should be able to make up their mind almost immediately.
Even when “Detention” is busy having impish, self-referential humor explode out of its ears and commenting on cultural trends, Kahn knows how to stage the slasher-horror elements. The opening dispatch of the self-proclaimed bitch has a cool shot out of her window, and an attack in Riley’s bedroom, extending into a neighbor’s yard, is surprisingly tense.
If the writing weren’t already up to Aaron Sorkin and Diablo Cody’s standards, it wouldn’t matter that the ensemble brings colorful personality to the project, but they do. Already a clear talent, Hutcherson (who also serves as executive producer) is totally charismatic and appealing as the ultra-cool, skateboarding Clapton Davis. There’s no reason Caswell couldn’t break out after this. As heroine Riley, she’s hugely likable and funny in her own right, and with co-star Hutcherson, they make a sweet couple. Locke plays her part of cheerleader Ione to the hilt, over-the-top and hilariously blasting off one-liners like she’s at home with the film’s overall tone and rapid rhythm.
It’s hard to see anyone feeling neutral about “Detention,” but it’d be no surprise if it became a cult hit in a heartbeat. If it seems pleased with its own hipsterism, there’s still nothing else like it.
93 min., rated R.