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Assassination of a High School President (2008)


Assassination of a High School President is chasing hard in the footsteps of Rushmore, right down to its small geeky hero whose deadpan delivery is purposely reminiscent of Jason Schwartzman’s in that earlier film. The entire film wants to be a carbon copy of Wes Anderson’s 1998 movie, with the addition of dark slickness and the omission of general quality. This is the sort of movie less concerned with plot and character than with witty banter in hushed tones, scored with bass-heavy techno beats.

The film’s plot focuses not on an assassination, but rather a case of missing SAT tests. Yep, that’s right — let the dark, twisted intrigue begin! Hot on the trail of these missing exams is sophomore dweeb/school paper wunderkind Bobby Funke (Reece Thompson), who wants to be an investigative reporter but is given such little respect that most of his peers mistake him for a freshman. The kid roams the halls, talking in continued slickness to every peripheral character like a would-be Joseph Cotton from Citizen Kane. I half expected a flaming sled to show up at the end with ‘Bud Lite’ written on it. Alas, it doesn’t; instead, Bobby uncovers evidence that points to popular school president Paul Moore (Patrick Taylor) as the guilty party, and as a result he is overthrown and relegated to high school exile. But there is, obviously, more to the story.

The film starts as a too-cool-for-its-own-good high school comedy, then swiftly devolves into the most transparent school pageant ever. Yes, we live in the age of Facebook, sexting, and other such youth-sucking vices that aid our kids in growing up way too fast, but Assassination of a High School President is so dark and moody that it still feels like kids playing dress-up. Watching Funke investigate the stolen SATs with such dogged determination is like watching the Scooby-Doo gang go after the Mystery Monster — after a matter of time we expect our hero to pull off the oddly realistic rubber mask to unveil the true culprit.

Funke’s object of desire is Francesca Fachini (Mischa Barton), whom the press materials refer to as a ‘senior hottie,’ and whom I refer to as ‘way too mature for this movie.’ Francesca formerly dated the exiled president, and her smugly creepy stepbrother/student council president Marlon Piazza (Luke Grimes) has taken office in his stead. For her part, Barton stands above the proceedings and exudes more maturity in the tone of her voice than the rest of the movie put together. She is also frequently naked. Grimes’ Piazza is an intriguing wasted opportunity; the guy has the chops to deliver a full-scale high school villain, but the filmmakers are too interested in moody narration and a plodding investigation to devote much time to his good work. And I haven’t even mentioned the unfortunate appearance by Bruce Willis as the oddly intense principal, which he plays with equal parts knowing humor and befuddled sincerity.

Assassination of a High School President was directed by Brett Simon, a first-timer with a slo-mo addiction, and was written by Tim Calpin and Kevin Jakubowski, who know how to be verbose but neglect to actually write anything more substantial than random similes. Anyone who claims Diablo Cody’s dialogue is too cutely aware of itself has obviously never gotten their mitts on this screenplay, which is so full of over-the-top bon mots that it’s almost embarrassing. A random sampling: ‘Maybe my puff piece was no pastry,’ ‘After three hours, the only thing I got from Paul was a sinking feeling in my stomach,’ and my personal favorite, ‘Alibis are like Dutch Ovens — gamy but airtight.’ You get the idea — these guys studied a thesaurus and then Wiki’d some common colloquialisms during the writing of this script. Similarly, the visual style is pleasing enough in a music video sense, but somehow the virtuosity disappears when characters actually have to speak to one another. As a result, this is a movie that understands its coolness factor and little else. Sure, it’s cool to watch pretty people walk down the hall in slow-motion, but the filmmakers forgot what to shoot when the frame rate is set to 24.

The DVD includes commentary track, an alternate opening, and deleted/alternate/extended scenes.

Get thee back to the OC.