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September 15, 2014 12:39 PM   Subscribe

In 2004 Joseph Kahn directed the hyper-kinetic, poorly reviewed motorcycle action movie Torque. It was Kahn's directorial debut, and though he was tapped for (one of many) failed Neuromancer adaptations, he devoted the next six years to a largely self financed project: the horror-comedy farce Detention. Noted cultural critic Steven Shaviro discusses in this essay why Detention, despite also being reviewed negatively, is one of his favorite movies of the decade. Shaviro's review contains major spoilers for the plot, and it's probably best to go into the movie blind. A brief non-spoiler synopsis is available below the jump.

Detention (trailer) is, on its surface, a spoof movie that acts as a spoof of spoof movies; for example, the first Scream and the later (less subtle) imitators like Scary Movie.

However, it is also a competently crafted science fiction and horror story. It's a critique and love letter to the post-modern culture of reference and remix, specifically that which calls upon an idealized version of the 90s. Narratively it's an archetypal high-school movie, focusing on a geeky girl who is trying to make sense of her place in the pecking order. It also has a Breakfast Club style cast of misfits who must band together to stop a menacing serial killer.

Detention's premier at a number of festivals in 2011 was fairly well received, but didn't find much traction in wider releases. However, the movie has recently been released on streaming services like Netflix. With its rerelease on streaming services (as well as Blu-Ray and DVD), the film seems to be gaining larger cult status as predicted in this 2012 Vulture article,
Fair warning: I am about to make Detention sound like either the most awesome or awful movie ever made, although it’s neither. Joseph Kahn’s frantic, deranged mash-up is being billed as a hip teen slasher movie, but it’s more like The Breakfast Club meets Donnie Darko. Meets Prom Night. Meets Back to the Future. With a bit of The Fly, Freaky Friday, and Kill Bill thrown in for good measure. And that doesn’t even begin to do justice to its fidgety, candy-colored aesthetic, which feels like a distillation of every music video and/or commercial ever made. Detention seems expressly designed for cult status and is certain to achieve it.
With the love-it-or-hate-it nature of the film, it may be a good idea to try the first 30 minutes, even if you're initially put off by the style.
posted by codacorolla (25 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, I saw that one in 2011 or so and liked it a lot, but didn't remember the film from the title alone. Had to watch the trailer to confirm. Yes, great movie as well as a great spoof movie.
posted by debagel at 12:54 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed the heck out of Detention when I saw it about six months ago. It's quite a bit of fun. Pairs well with the latest effort, All Cheerleaders Die from Lucky McKee (May, The Woods).
posted by adipocere at 1:02 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Well, it's in my Netflix queue, so I may as well go in blind and watch it tonight. I don't have anything better to do.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:04 PM on September 15, 2014

Just a warning to those who want to watch this [fantastic] film: there's another movie called Detention that came out the same year, and it's atrocious. I believe it involves Dane Cook. Don't make the mistake I did of watching that film, wondering the whole time why the reviews you read were so, so, so wrong.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 1:11 PM on September 15, 2014

There is no way that Torque was meant in seriousness.
posted by a snickering nuthatch at 1:12 PM on September 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh man, I really want to watch Torque. My understanding is that it's Fast and Furious but with motorcycles, and that sounds alright to me. I know some of the Giant Bomb guys are huge fans.
posted by kmz at 1:16 PM on September 15, 2014

Thanks so much for this. I hadn't heard of it and, as a huge fan of Torque, I'm keen to see it. I'm lookin' at a Joseph Kahn double-feature tonight, I am. Excellent.
posted by Dr. Wu at 1:21 PM on September 15, 2014

Just a warning to those who want to watch this [fantastic] film: there's another movie called Detention that came out the same year, and it's atrocious. I believe it involves Dane Cook. Don't make the mistake I did of watching that film, wondering the whole time why the reviews you read were so, so, so wrong.

This movie does indeed involve Dane Cook who (knowingly or no) plays a sort of parody of Dane Cook.
posted by codacorolla at 1:24 PM on September 15, 2014

Shaviro's essay is beyond excellent, and has precipitated me into a kind of ecstatic state; I'll have to read it three or four more times to have any hope of grasping it other than viscerally.
posted by jamjam at 1:54 PM on September 15, 2014

Isn't Dane Cook always kind of playing a parody of Dane Cook?
posted by Strange Interlude at 2:00 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sorry, this is the other Detention that I was warning folks away from. Turns out that it had David Carradine in it (possibly in his last appearance). Sorry for the confusion; watching the two back to back definitely did some weird things to my brain.
posted by a box and a stick and a string and a bear at 2:02 PM on September 15, 2014

I unabashedly love this movie, though I can see how others might want all extant copies to be buried in the desert. It makes not even the slightest effort to be anything but winkingly self-referential.

I am surprised that this was a 6 year labor of love for Kahn though. I had assumed that the film's schedule, budget, and script were primarily constrained by the need to finish the project before the heaping mounds of coke which so clearly fueled this movie ran out.
posted by Panjandrum at 2:13 PM on September 15, 2014

Did anyone else think that it was a Sideways Stories from Wayside School book in movie form?

I loved it.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:46 PM on September 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I sent this to Joe Kahn. He also directed one of my favorite music videos of all time, which combines Muse with Western movies, Star Wars, blaxploitation... and more. It's very fitting. It's very fun. Enjoy:

Muse - Knights of Cydonia
posted by raihan_ at 6:34 PM on September 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Holy shit, you guys. That was amazing. Time to go back and read the thread and links now.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:36 PM on September 15, 2014

I didn't know Joseph Kahn directed Knights of Cydonia, but I am in no way surprised. Good work, dude!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:27 PM on September 15, 2014

I just watched this too. I think it wouldn't be a stretch to say some of the first 20 or so minutes inspired some of the editing and flourishes in Scott Pilgrim.

Also, How the fuck did Organik wind up in a movie? Like, he was in multiple scenes. Some random Canadian hip hop hustler nerd? Whatever, good for him.
posted by Hoopo at 9:44 PM on September 15, 2014

Oh thank you! The preview for Detention has me PSYCHED. Then I watched the trailer for Torque and for once that temporary Amazon Prime membership is good for something other than shipping.
posted by artof.mulata at 11:05 PM on September 15, 2014

That was thoroughly entertaining. Maybe I'll read the essay now.
posted by coolxcool=rad at 11:32 PM on September 15, 2014

I liked his essay, even if I thought most of what he was saying was somewhat explicit in the film. Not personally gonna be bothered with mise-en-abîme as far as Googling it. Anyone have a layman's interpretation as to its application in regards this film?
posted by coolxcool=rad at 12:01 AM on September 16, 2014

"Did you know more babies are conceived to Oasis than any other Beatles cover band?"
posted by mannequito at 12:13 AM on September 16, 2014

Ha, Kahn used to quote me on his website, as I was one of the few reviewers that gave Torque a positive review, and something I wrote (I was reviewing as a job back in those days) must have resonated with him.

I stand by that assessment, damn it. I thought it was good, dumb, technically competent fun, and I still don't know why it got panned so much more than other dumb action movies that were out around the same time that were worse in most respects.
posted by smoke at 12:56 AM on September 16, 2014

I went to high school with Joseph, and was in a few of his student movies - generally shoot'em'ups in the vein of John Woo.

The memory that stands out the most, though, was that MTV ran a contest for people to make their own video for Madonna's Vogue. Joseph worked really hard on the video, and got lots of different people involved. We screened the finished video in some classroom, and it looked really good. Pretty much everyone, whether in the video, assisting with the video, or just having seen the video, figured he was a shoe-in to win the contest. But fingers were crossed just in case.

And then MTV announced the winning videos...and they were utter, utter, utter shit. Like, really bad. It would be one thing to make a good video and lose to a great video, but to make a good video and lose to the shit that won was just...deflating, for everyone.

So I was really happy, after having lost touch with Joseph for a long time, to find out that he was now directing music videos for pretty much every famous musician on MTV.
posted by Bugbread at 4:36 PM on September 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just got around to watching this, it is fantastic, and really deserved greater recognition. I'd say it forms something of a trilogy with Scott Pilgrim and Kaboom which came out around the same time - hyperactive, the shots all packed with detail and full of neon and lens flare, borderline nonsensical plot that takes on ten genres at once, post-post-everything stuffed with references to almost every other teen film, great cast doing absurdity with tons of energy... But at its heart it's just an uncynical and upbeat coming-of-age film, just like good teen films always are. Highly recommended.
posted by iivix at 3:24 PM on September 28, 2014 [1 favorite]

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