Sunday, June 24, 2012

Movie – Assassination of a High School President (2008)

I had heard good things about Assassination of a High School President, so I checked it out.  While it was different from what I had expected, I liked what it did.  How is it different?  It has a sense of humor.  I would go as far as calling this a comedy/drama, while at the same time still being a noir film set in high school.  It’s not a spoof of noir movies, though.  The humor comes from the situations in the film.

This movie stars Reece Thompson as sophomore Bobby Funke, a reporter for his high school paper.  He has dreams of getting into a summer journalism program, but never actually finishes anything he gets assigned by his editor (Melonie Diaz).  While Brick was related to The Maltese Falcon, and Cherry Crush was related to Double Indemnity, this film is related to Chinatown.  There’s even a fun reference to that film with the line “Forget it, Funke.  It’s high school.” at the end of this film.

A lot of the humor comes from the fact that Funke is about as far as you can get from the hard-bit detective that we would normally see in a noir film.  He’s not part of the popular crowd, doesn’t have a girlfriend, and has two more years of high school after the one he is in now.

The movie benefits from some supporting adult characters played by familiar faces (Bruce Willis, Michael Rapaport, and Kathryn Morris).  Willis is the principal of the school and he is a former military man.  He’s really intense.  You can tell he’d like nothing better than to bring back corporal punishment to his school.  He talks to the students like he would have talked to the soldiers he was commanding, too.  Most of what comes out of his mouth is inappropriate and/or funny.

One day he finds out that the SAT tests have been stolen from his office.  He rounds up “the usual suspects”.  Literally.  We see the students lined up against a wall in his office and their body language exactly mimics that of the line up in the film The Usual Suspects.  Among these school lowlifes is Funke, who can’t figure out why he is there.  (It’s for chewing gum in the school.)  Just as in The Usual Suspects these kids form a loose collection of associates.  They help Funke with what happens next.

He is assigned to write a story on Paul Moore (Patrick Taylor), star athlete, student body president, and all around popular guy.  Funke actually manages to uncover some evidence and ends up linking Moore to the theft of the SAT tests.  He publishes the story, the tests are found in Moore’s locker, and all of a sudden Funke is the coolest guy in the school.  Even popular senior girl Francesca Fachini (Mischa Barton) invites him to be her date to the Homecoming dance.

He can’t enjoy his new status for long, though.  Certain things start to nag at him, not the least of which is that Moore proclaims his innocence.  Funke starts to dig a little deeper into the rest of the Student Council and he begins to wonder if something even bigger is going on and if the stolen SAT tests were nothing more than a diversion.  How much does he want to dig, though, because it could kill not only his newfound popularity, but also the summer internship that his article got him.  Francesca’s stepbrother (Luke Grimes) is one of the people that Funke starts to wonder about and if he’s right this obviously could kill any chance Funke has with her, too.

Like in Brick, some of the noir conventions ended up getting translated to high school.  In the case of this movie, though, they were done with some humor.  Among the “usual suspects” is a sexy girl with a bad reputation (Tanya Fischer).  She knows something, but won’t talk.  Funke finds out her secret and uses it to pressure her to talk.  Her deep, dark secret is that outside of school she is a figure skater.  If anyone at the school found out it would "ruin" her bad reputation.

Another humorous scene involves Funke meeting up with a female informant that knows all about the president – the guy’s younger sister.  We see a nighttime scene with a girl facing away from us as Funke approaches her.  She’s dressed sexy.  She then turns around and we see she’s maybe 12 years old.  Like other pop star fan wannabees she is dressed way too sexy for her age.  She’s done it because she was going to be meeting an older high school guy, which must mean he’s cool.  Funke tells her he’s a friend of her brother.  She just looks at the way he is dressed and quite confidently responds, “No.  You’re not.”  This throws him and he is on the defensive the rest of the conversation.  She’s 12 and she’s already cooler than him.  She finally agrees to tell him what he wants…if he wins her a stuffed unicorn at the carnival.

I had only seen Reece Thompson on a short-lived TV show.  In this film he does a decent job of walking the line between being a serious character who we can believe can figure stuff out, and an awkward character that we can believe is trying to navigate the various social strata at his school.

I already mentioned above that just about any scene with Willis is a funny one.  Don’t expect him to dominate the movie, though.  This isn’t a “Bruce Willis” film.  This is one of those times that he has taken a smaller role in an independent film because he liked the script.  Also watch for an early in her career performance from Zoe Kravitz in this movie.

I can’t leave this post without mentioning Eye Patch Girl.  She is played by Quinn Shephard.  She pops up a few times during the movie.  Why is she wearing an eye patch?  We never find out.  Does she hate Funke, have a thing for Funke, or could care less about Funke?  We never find out.  If you go to the IMDB boards, though, you will see that she made quite an impression on a lot of viewers.  One thing I can tell you about the character is that she is not the girl without an eye patch that Funke sees having sex in a car.  The two do look similar, though, and this has caused even more fascination with the character because it would have meant she didn’t really need to wear the eye patch.  In the commentary the filmmakers state that it is two different actresses and that since Shephard would have been all of 13 or 14 there’s no way they would have put her in that scene anyway.

I can’t say as I’ve seen many noir films that can also function as comedies part of the time.  However they did it in this movie, it worked for me.  I recommend you give this film a try.

Chip’s Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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  1. I thought the film was OK but not so compelling. It was obvious who was involved in the mystery while I thought the Chinatown reference was a bit lame. I liked Bruce Willis although I don't think he had a lot to work with. Reece Thompson I thought was much better in a far more under-seen film in Rocket Science which I need to re-watch as I my opinion on that film was mixed as it also featured Anna Kendrick.

    1. I believe I've got Rocket Science in my queue. Anna Kendrick is from my home state, so I'm a little more interested in her than some of her contemporaries. During the commentary for Up in the Air Reitman mentioned that he had written the role she played with her in mind, even though she was mostly unknown, just from having seen her in, I believe, Rocket Science.

  2. Wow, a movie I've never heard of. You're good. I'd no idea Bruce Willis was in this.

    1. Thanks. Willis wasn't really hyped as being in the film. For once a studio didn't intentionally mislead potential viewers by using up all of his scenes in the trailer (unlike, say, Liam Neeson in Battleship).