Fitting itself nicely into a sub-genre dominated in recent times by 2002′s cult-indie winners Igby Goes Down and The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys, Assassination of a High School President is a clever, dark look at the lives of teenagers who are rather more intelligent than they’re given credit for. Fitting in nicely with those other representatives, Assassination has some younger people you’ve seen around, a big name actor as guest star, and gives us to understand that we shouldn’t underestimate these young folk, but largely because they really are up to no good.
Bobby Funke (Reece Thompson), in the spirit of something like an homage to film-noir, is a reporter for the school newspaper who has an itch to investigate something, whether there’s something to investigate or not. When the SATs are stolen, it turns out there might be something worth investigating after all. Funke is nearly overwhelmed by the possibility that a true avenue for some shadowy, journalistic adventure has come his way. Throw in the fact that the school’s hottest of the hot, Francesca (Mischa Barton), has personally asked him to find out who stole the tests, and life is suddenly teetering on a fantasy/reality razor’s edge for Mr. Funke (mispronounced by everyone in the film as Funky).
Before long, it looks like a slam dunk case against the student body president, and when Funke sends his story to press, the president goes down. Of course, things are a little too tidy, and Funke finds himself struggling to get himself out from under a story that doesn’t wash. Now he has to find out what really happened, and that means getting deep into the seedy underbelly of a Catholic boarding school with too many secrets and not enough help for war vet Principal Kirkpatrick (Bruce Willis).
The offbeat style of the young in uncomfortably adult circumstances (also reminiscent of the other films mentioned) plays out well for the most part, but some scenes lose their ability to portray the tone they seem to be after, and that’s a trying break for the viewer. A certain “assassination” scene, for example, is pulling in many directions at once, not least a kind of comedic throwing up of the hands, and while it isn’t terribly executed, it’s an odd choice that leaves you unsure exactly how you’re supposed to view it.
Other bites are stylishly presented, like the in-school suspension “jail,” complete with a rec yard that inmates are let out in for a few minutes a day so they can pump iron. In general, the crossover of motifs is handled nicely, with a wonderful working of the dreaded vamp client, and several red herrings which pop up repeatedly, but never amount to anything. In the specific, putting out film noir aimed at a younger audience is a tough road, and while Assassination is a pretty fun time, it falters somewhat in its lack of conviction… or possibly its uncertainty. Thus, it might have been even better, but it just wasn’t really trying to be.
On the other hand, the film is a great giver of hope, especially with the inclusion of rather “It” Mischa Barton, in that it has a lot more brains, and a more cerebral comedy, than a lot of what gets put out. If nothing else, we at least know that, as the story hopes, not everyone thinks “young” is synonymous with “stupid,” even today.
Whether a bit faulty or not, it should not be missed. It’s fun, smart, and certainly engaging, and even only for the treat of witnessing someone pay attention to film noir and hope to play out those devices to new audiences it’s definitely worth watching.
The film did rather well at Sundance, getting a decent amount of praise from critics, and it’s a bit disappointing that a good showing there didn’t give it more legs. The DVD release is rather telling in that both FilmSchoolRejects.com and Slashfilm.com are quoted on the back cover. The people this movie is after go to those sites, not just because they are probably younger-ish, but because… well, they can read for a start.
The DVD also includes a really interesting commentary track with Director Brett Simon, and an alternate opening and several extended, alternate, and deleted scenes. The main treat of the bonus scenes (which also have optional commentary) is that you can really see that this is not just some flick for youngsters that we’re knocking out in a month. There were a lot of serious decisions when it came to putting together several aspects of things, some of them apparently changed rather late in the game when mental images didn’t play out on screen the way we thought they would.
It’s the kind of movie that you hope for a bit more in the way of special features, but given the realities of the situation, you know you aren’t going to get them. Even so, the commentary is great, and anyone who appreciates the complicated role this film is trying to take on will not want to miss it.
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- Assassination of a High School President DVD Review (screenrant.com)