Release Date:  January 30, 2004

Rating:  PG-13 (for language, sexual content and some drug references)

Genre:  Comedy and Crime/Gangster

Director:  Brian Robbins

Actors: Kate Erika Christensen, Chris Evans, Bryan Greenberg, Scarlett Johansson, Darius Miles and Leonardo Nam

Review:  “The SAT isn’t about who you are. It’s about who you’ll be,” says the lead character in “The Perfect Score,” Paramount’s latest film about a group of high school seniors who plot to steal the answers for a perfect 1600 on the SAT. Does it work? The answer depends on your perspective.

Kyle (Chris Evans, “Not Another Teen Movie”) dreams of attending Cornell and getting a degree in architecture. The problem is, even his amazing 1430 SAT score isn’t enough to assure him a place at the prestigious university. Matty (Bryan Greenberg, TV’s “One Tree Hill”), his best friend, is a plumber’s son who just wants to go to the University of Maryland – fast, because his girlfriend is already there, cheating on him. Erika Christensen (“Traffic”) plays Anna, the would-be class valedictorian desperately trying to live up to her parent’s sky-high expectations.
 

OBJECTIONABLE CONTENT: "The Perfect Score"

 

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Basketball star Desmond (Darius Miles, a real life NBA player for the Cleveland Cavaliers) just needs to score 900 for St. John’s, his first choice among many scholarship offers. Given that his free time has been spent on the court, however, that seems highly unlikely. Fortunately, with the help of the high school techie, Francesca (Scarlett Johansson, “Girl with a Pearl Earring”), whose father owns the building where the scores are kept, Kyle’s plan to break in may just work. After adding the class stoner, Roy (Leonardo Nam), to the gang, when he overhears their plans, they’re set to go. SAT perfection awaits.

This film suffers from some script problems, in particular the dialogue, which is generally very weak, minus a few exceptions (“A lot of people think these questions are difficult, but not me. These questions have answers.”). The characters are stereotype recreations from “The Breakfast Club” (but to their credit, the writers do give that film a verbal nod). The acting, with the exception of Johansson and Nam, as the very funny stoner dude a.k.a. Sean Penn in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” is mediocre. And, although turning high school students into SAT thieves is a good twist on the usual heist caper, the plot flounders. Despite these near-fatal flaws, however, “The Perfect Score” has a number of things going for it.

First of all, the film underscores the nearsightedness of our educational system, which relies on multiple-choice tests that just happen to be a billion-dollar industry. Second, it portrays the pressure placed on high school students to perform on that test, sometimes without thought to other academic, athletic or artistic achievements. Third, and perhaps most importantly, it jabs a finger in the chests of parents who have emotionally abandoned their kids.

Francesca’s father, a successful businessman, cares only about bedding young women. Kyle’s parents are oblivious to his academic angst, as are Anna’s obsessive parents, who disdain photography, Anna’s real interest. Matty, who has been dumped by his girlfriend, doesn’t even bother to consult his parents. And, Desmond’s mother is trying to make it as a single mom. Interestingly enough, she’s the one character who shows us just how important good parenting is.

“I’d be a Mom,” Francesca replies, when asked what she would do if money were no object. “Not just a parent, but one who cares more about that title than the one on her business card.” Ouch! She’s nailed a major segment of the parent population in just one sentence. Fortunately, we see the other side in Desmond’s mother, who not only encourages her son to get his college degree – advice that the athlete heeds – but also keeps after him to study. After learning that Roy’s mother is dead, this gutsy role model connects it to Roy’s drug problem, forcing him to get real. At the end of the film, when Roy has achieved huge success, he rightly attributes it to the tough love of his surrogate mom.

Although the kids do resort to crime as a solution to their problems, “The Perfect Score” doesn’t assume that it’s okay for them to cheat, simply because they feel pressure. And, in the end, while they all benefit from a distinct advantage, they do opt to do the right thing, which sends a good message about honesty. Unfortunately, director Brian Robbins (“Varsity Blues”) makes the characters’ language very realistic, with lots of obscenities (include a couple f- words). He also inexplicably introduces the character of Francesca with a shot of her crotch and a comment about “forbidden fruit” – an unnecessary and completely gratuitous addition.

Fellow reviewers will tend to skewer this film for its cinematic failings, but “The Perfect Score” has merit. It’s a good movie for families with older teens, who will relate to the frustration-with-parents-and-the-system theme. Hopefully, the film’s message will also score high with parents.