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The Perfect Score

movie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: The Perfect Score

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Erika Christensen
Director: Brian Robbins
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 103 Minutes
Release Date: January 2004
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Chris Evans, Darius Miles, Leonardo Nam, Sonja Bennett, Fulvio Cecere, Robert Clarke, Bryan Greenberg

Review by Harvey Karten
1 star out of 4

While some groups oppose the very existence of the Scholastic Aptitude Test for college admission on the grounds that the exam is culturally biased (Harlem kids may not know how to spell "yacht"), or because they believe testing standardizes a diverse American youth, the trend in American schools is in the opposite direction. More standardized tests are needed to evaluate youngsters because an "B" in Andover or Exeter might mean more than an "A" in Maxwell Vocational High School. The kids in Brian Robbins's "The Perfect Score" belong politically to the first group but only one objects to the very concept of the test, calling it "racist made up by rich white boys." The others, who bond in their attempt to steal the answers to the test by breaking into Princeton, New Jersey's Educational Testing Service, take part in the heist simply to improve their own, previously taken SAT's, all with scores too low for admission to the colleges of their choice.

Marc Hyman and Jon Zack's story, scripted by them with the addition of Marc Schwann and helmed by Brian Robbins, assembles seven seniors at a New Jersey high school who are persuaded to break into the offices of the ETS at night to rip off the answers to the test. Francesca (Scarlett Johansson) is a free-spirit into the caper for the fun. Anna (Erika Christensen), ranks second in her class but her scores are too low for admission to Brown University. Kyle (Chris Evans) and Marty (Bryan Greenberg) are friends, the former needing the points to get into Cornell School of Architecture, the latter to get into the University of Maryland where he can join his girlfriend. Long tall basketball star Desmond (Darius Miles) is under pressure from his mom to get into a good school but like the principal character in Shirley Lauro's play "Open Admissions" realizes that his teachers have been passing him along because he's an athlete and believes he cannot do well on the SAT without advance answers. The narrator is an idiot-savant, Asian- American stoner Roy (Leonardo Nam) who carries a 0.00 GPA, ranking dead last in his class. He is taken along because he had inadvertently heard about the plot.

There are two stories in this movie, which is targeted to the high-school audience: one is the caper itself, a low-key robbery setup involving the seniors' breaking into the testing site through a rope thrown through the roof; the more important one is in the service of Socrates' philosophy, "Know thyself," the 17-year- olds, most of whom have no idea of their future goals, learning by doing, maturing almost instantly via their mutual escapade. The kids are all personable, with the most confident performance as expected coming from Scarlett Johansson as a girl with many rings on pierced ears. The dialogue, constructed by a committee, falls awfully flat, virtually every punch line destined to be met with audience silence.

The only inventive idea comes from the credits at the beginning, all shaped into a proxy for the Scholastic Aptitude Test itself. Unlike John Hughes "The Breakfast Club," on which this movie seems broadly modeled, "The Perfect Score" simply lacks the poignance and credible moments of truth. Brian Robbins and most of the performers and crew had better do well when they take the public to the box office equivalent of the SAT: C minus, the grade they deserve for this lame pic, is simply too low to gain admission to the week's major box office results.

Copyright 2004 Harvey Karten

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