The Perfect Score
Hey, it’s not a bad premise: a group of flunkies and stressed-out non-performers group together to beat the odds in the unjust game of standardized testing. If you can’t beat the SAT, steal the answers from the company who writes it; that’s the plan of the high-school students in “The Perfect Score.” And it seems like such a winning concept for a film, doesn’t it?
Regrettably, there’s a reason this film hasn’t been made before now. If you write a protagonist whose entire goal is to steal the answers to the most famous test in history, you’re either crafting one who’s dumb or arrogant… or both. Those aren’t admirable characteristics, folks; and they sum up the crack force who tries it in this film. Rather than debating the merits of standardized testing in an intelligent forum, this cast of characters would rather rip off the answers, quite succinctly arguing in favor of the very examination they stand against: this lot should be put in jail, not sent to college, for their actions. How are we to empathize with them?
More germane to the subject of moviemaking, however, is the dead-end inevitably of the plotting. For our heros to remain characteristically viable, they either have to end up in said jail, steal the answers and successfully cheat their way into higher education, or – as happens here – steal the answers and choose not to use them on the grounds of higher moral purpose. Our choices are pathetic, irritable and smarmy, respectively. You can pick which emotion you prefer if you choose to see this film.
A bunch of comparable nobodys star in the ill-fated venture; the most known of them (thanks for Soffia Coppola) is Scarlett Johansson, who sports black hair and plays the bad-girl daughter of an executive in the Educational Testing Service who writes the SAT (and whose main headquarters apparently just happens to be down the street from their High School). She aligns with a group of SAT-challenged misfits to execute a heist more daring than any Mission Impossible challenge – use her keycard to get into Daddy’s office building after hours and hijack the computers where the answers are stored. It’s truly unfortunate that this screen gem arrived after “Lost in Translation” and “Girl with a Pearl Earring”…otherwise Johansson might have enjoyed a reputation for being a talented, smart actor.
There is a bright spot in the mix: Leonardo Nam, whose pot-smoking antics are a little forced, and whose narration is reduced to comic gems such as: "And so the day arrived. We had packed it, rolled it, smoked it. Now it was time to ride the buzz." Yet he provides all the sizzle in the otherwise dreadful comedy – I’d like to see him in other roles, riding that subdued, deadpan delivery all the way to the bank.
But I’m tired even writing about this pathetic trip. Mark Schwahn, Marc Hyman, and Jon Zack should be forced to take the examination they mock in order to perfect their skills; the English sections might help them craft some remotely realistic dialogue, and the math sections might help them create a plot that adds up. On the other hand, perhaps they should be made to write “I will not write another screenplay” a hundred times on a blackboard somewhere. At least we would be spared their remedial skills.
On the other hand, the producing team of Mike Tollin/Roger Birnbaum/Jonathan Glickman are probably more to blame; they dredged up enough money to put serious production values behind this script. In doing so, they assisted these banal writers and the lackluster talents of director Brian Robbins in creating a movie whose primary audience are those who can empathize with the central characters’ predicament: they can barely get 600 on their SATs. “The Perfect Score” flunks its way right off the screen and right into the juvenile halls of film gone bad.