Despite an interesting cast and passionate pleas from more than one film critic, Brett Simon’s Assassination of a High School President is the latest project to be burped out of the gaping, bankrupt maw of the Yari Film Group and directly onto the DVD market. Yari’s failure has claimed some terrific films – most notably a pair of Rod Lurie movies – and although Assassination doesn’t quite deserve to be lumped in with the best of the studio’s aborted litter, it’s certainly better than most direct-to-video projects, and well worth a rental and 90 minutes of your time. My review after the jump:
Sort of a clownish, noir-scented blend of Rushmore and The Usual Suspects, Assassination stars the deliberately Jason Schwartzmann-like Reece Thompson as Bobby Funke (it’s pronounced “Funk,” but everyone says it “Funky”), a wannabe cub reporter for the paper at St. Donovan’s High, one of those magical Hollywood schools where every girl looks like she’s in her mid-20s, adults barely exist, and even the poor kids probably have more money than you. Funke doesn’t even have his driver’s license and he might be the least popular kid in school, but he speaks with the corny cadence of a hard-boiled gumshoe – which is appropriate, because at Assassination‘s outset, he discovers that the puff-piece profile he’s writing about the school president is actually the tip of a conspiracy involving SAT theft, a drug ring, and Mischa Barton in a bathtub.
It’s all decidedly familiar stuff, but it’s also obvious that screenwriters Tim Calpin and Kevin Jakubowski are just having a goof – and their fun is infectious, thanks to a succession of witty lines and solid performances from a cast that manages to wring plenty of knowing laughs from its stock characters. (As befitting a film in which adults are relegated to the fringes, the older members of the cast are given the least to work with – Bruce Willis seems unsure of how to play the tough-as-nails school principal, and Michael Rapaport pops in for a scene in which he essentially plays himself, but that’s about it.)
Assassination is sort of a distant cousin to 1976’s Bugsy Malone – it’s a world of junior thugs and molls, one where every shot is an homage and every line is filtered through a dozen others. It’s entertaining, but often in spite of itself; every subtle touch is counterbalanced by something hokey and over the top, and the grand finale hinges on an explanation as stupidly contrived as anything from the final moments of your average episode of Scooby-Doo. Still, it all essentially fits; it’s supposed to be ridiculous, the kids are all supposed to look like fourth-year junior college students, and Barton is most definitely supposed to look like a panther among kittens. Does it add a thing to any of the movies it so self-consciously apes? Will you remember any of it long after it’s over? Absolutely not. But as far as noir comedy trifles go, you could do a lot worse.
Assassination of a High School President (Yari, 2009)
Starring: Reece Thompson, Bruce Willis, Mischa Barton, Michael Rapaport
Director: Brett Simon