Director Joseph Kahn has only made two movies, but they’re both impossible to categorize. Oh sure, Torque is clearly a Fast and Furious clone, but Kahn made it his own. It’s a movie that “so bad it’s good” doesn’t even begin to describe. Back in the day, Nick Nunziata did as good a job as possible describing it:
When I say that Torque is the most shamelessly synthetic and overstylized action flick ever made I mean it in the nicest way possible. This film makes cheese blush. It gives bullet time lead poisoning. From the first computer assisted race sequence to the climactic Chop-Kawasaki and Mach 48373 race through the city, Torque revels in excess in ways that would resurrect Don Simpson and eject him from his grave in slow motion as doves gather and carry him to the surface of Venus where he is pelted with little rocks shaped like Jerry Bruckheimer’s night terrors. As the film unfolded I seriously found myself falling in love with its utter fakeness and bold arrogance. You know the kind of love I’m referring to. The love an inmate finds after cell blocks B and C ventilate his colon enough so that he forgets what it was like before the whistling sound began to waft from his drawers twenty-four hours a day. Before his ass had its own climate. Torque is that rough lover, the one who punches you in the eyes when he/she is happy and does spinning monkey kicks to your coccyx when he/she feels melancholy. This film has the Goodyear blimp testicles to recreate a quote from The Fast and the Furious (also produced by Neal Moritz, one of this film’s many Summerian summoners) and then scoff at it.
It scoffs at The Fast and the Furious, a film that not only made this film possible but one that looks like a Cassavettes flick in comparison. Let that sink in. I’ll wait.
I can’t say as though I truly enjoy Torque as much as its cult following suggests, but Kahn’s latest film, Detention, is something I fell in love with right away.
Within 5 minutes of Detention, I was on board. And, judging from the reviews (and even audience reactions), most other folks wouldn’t be. But that’s ok. This isn’t a movie for everyone. It’s a movie for the information-overloaded internet and texting generation (you could consider me on the outside of that, I think, but not so far outside that I can’t appreciate what this movie is going for). Referential, manic, kinetic, goofy, this thing makes Scott Pilgrim look like an Ozu film. Smash cuts, whip pans, excessive cross-cutting, flashbacks, flashbacks within flashbacks, on-screen text, and did I mention how referential this movie is?
It’s not a subtle movie. You could say that’s a bad thing, but for me, it’s rocketed past unsubtle and into some sort of transcendence. This is a movie that makes hyperbole seem inadequate. You could say that this is a movie that’s trying to hard. It could feel like an exhausting experience, an endurance test, or maybe a seizure-inducing bomb. It seems like everything that I think is great about this movie could equally be considered a flaw by detractors. But while I can see why people would feel that way, I quite enjoyed it.
The story, inasmuch as you could say it has a story, is about Riley Jones, a high-school “loser” who runs afoul of a slasher-inspired killer. Er, sorta. It’s like a demented mixture of John Hughes and Donnie Darko and Freaky Friday and countless horror films. Kahn is riffing off of current horror movie trends, notably torture porn, but fusing it with references from the 80s and 90s. In fact, the 90s references seem to be about on par, if not more prevalent, than the 80s references.
The movie is so fast paced that I suspect it will reward multiple viewings. It’s packed with references, not only in the dialogue, but also in the visuals and conceptual design. For instance, there’s a movie-within-a-movie slasher franchise called Cinderhella, and our main character, Riley, is walking around with one shoe for most of the movie. So while this film is ostensibly hitting you in the face with a sledgehammer (in the form of editing and writing), there are some subtle touches when it comes to stuff like this. The references are widely sourced; not just movies, but also music and fashion and probably stuff I didn’t even come close to picking up on… If you get it, it’s awesome, and if you don’t, you might not like it. On the other hand, this is a movie made for the internet age. In interviews, Kahn suggests that he expects the audience to pick the movie apart and look up references on the internet. Indeed, I can see this movie gaining a big cult following who will go on to cultivate a wiki or something that would catalog all of the myriad references. Is this a good thing? I guess that depends on your perspective, but I’m glad someone is playing around with that sort of thing for this new generation. Referential art is certainly not a new thing, even excessively referential art.
Kahn is pushing the boundaries of information processing. Consider how fast the on-screen text is displayed. which is clearly calibrated for a younger, texting-obsessed audience. Other folks might be tempted to tell this movie to get off their lawn, and that’s ok too. I will admit, the movie is all over the place. That might trip it up some in the second and third acts, but it ultimately holds together well and I suspect that some of the seemingly goofy plot machinations that emerge later in the movie fit together tightly. For a movie featuring time travel, angry Canadians, alien bears from the planet Starclaw, and copious amounts of vomit, this is quite the feat. Again, I think repeated viewings might be necessary to break the code.
This is bold, audacious, adventurous filmmaking at its best. Sure, it’s totally bonkers, but it’s got a manic energy that’s hard not to like. A part of me, the part that tries to overanalyze and nitpick everything, doesn’t really know what to make of it, but on a pure entertainment level, it’s something that really appeals to me. I suspect you’ll be hearing more about this movie when it comes to Kaedrin awards season… (Incidentally, I tried to take some screenshots from the BD, but it appears that BD’s copy protection means I can’t actually watch it on my PC, despite having a BD drive and “approved” player. Yet another instance of DRM making it hard on those of us who want to support filmmakers.)