Perfect Score, The (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

For high school kids with college aspirations, the SATs have always been the enemy. Most juniors and seniors try to improve their scores by studying or taking classes focused on SAT preparation. But not the sextet of characters inhabiting Brian Robbins' The Perfect Score. For them, each of whom has a different reason to dread filling in the little multiple-choice ovals, it's easier to break into Princeton's Educational Testing Service (the real facility bears no resemblance to its cinematic counterpart) and steal the answers than to take the more conventional route. On the surface, the premise sounds workable. I was hoping for "What if John Hughes directed a caper movie?" But if Hughes had seen this script (in which one of his films is referenced), he would have cringed. The characters are underdeveloped types, the plot is nonsensical, the caper is ludicrous, and the preachy ending is worthy of an Afterschool Special. What if Ferris Bueller had apologized, reformed, and spent the rest of his school years lecturing about the evils of truancy? Even as pure teenage wish fulfillment, The Perfect Score misses the mark.

Our six would-be thieves are all familiar - we have encountered their likes in other teen-centered movies. The ringleader is Kyle (Chris Evans), a would-be Cornell student who needs an SAT score of 1430 to get into the school of his choice, but has thus far managed no better than a 1020. Kyle's best friend, Matty (Bryan Greenberg), has lower expectations to match lesser ability, but he needs something respectable in order to be able to join his girlfriend at the University of Maryland. Anna (Erika Christensen) has a class rank of #2 with a perfect GPA, but her tendency to freeze up on standardized tests puts her admission to Brown in doubt. Desmond (Darius Miles) is a star basketball player, but his mom wants him to go to Saint John's rather than join the NBA, so he needs to take the SATs. Roy (Leonardo Nam), a stoner, is along for the ride. Ditto for Francesca (Scarlett Johansson), who doesn't have college plans but is a key to the heist plan because her father owns the building where the tests are kept. After some initial friction, the members of the group band together, come up with a plan, and set it in motion. And, during dead spots during the caper, they find time to tell their lives' stories, and each girl pairs off romantically with the guy of her choice.

The best thing - perhaps the only good thing – about The Perfect Score is Scarlett Johansson. Granted, her performance here is more than a notch below the ones she gave in Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring, but she brings a desperately needed energy to a movie that spins its wheels so much it ends up grinding metal. None of the other performers stands out; they're a generic bunch. In terms of race and gender, they're a politically correct mix, which may be all the filmmakers cared about.

At some point, someone must have become aware that The Perfect Score wasn't going to be able to stand on its own as a drama. To rectify the situation, the decision was made not to re-write the screenplay, but to augment it with several forced and unfunny comedy sequences. Thus, not only are we trapped into enduring six plastic characters going through the motions of planning an unimaginative and improbable theft, but we get to see them engage in the occasional pratfall as well. Oh, and then there's a Matrix knock-off. How out-of-touch does a film have to be to fail to realize that it stopped being cool to ape The Matrix when the sequels transformed the series into a self-parody?

I was offended by the ending, which is so abysmally moralistic as to be sickening. The messages come down hard and heavy: Don't do drugs! Don't steal! Be yourself! Have confidence in your own abilities! At the same time, the screenplay obliterates any chance it has of developing a semi-believable character. What flesh-and-blood teenager would act this way? Next time, director Robbins and his screenwriters should spend a few hours inside a real high school rather than re-hashing stock stereotypes from bad '80s movies. Give The Perfect Score a failing grade.

Perfect Score, The (United States, 2004)

Run Time: 1:34
U.S. Release Date: 2004-01-30
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations, Drugs)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1