- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2004

If you’re Scarlett Johansson, how irritated are you that “The Perfect Score,” a low-aiming teen comedy that spent months in the can, is coming out now, after you’ve wowed the industry with two prestige performances in “Lost in Translation” and “Girl With a Pearl Earring”?

Fortunately for her, “The Perfect Score,” from “Varsity Blues” director Brian Robbins, isn’t as bad as it could’ve been — not as bad, for instance, as “Varsity Blues.”

Consciously patterned after “The Breakfast Club,” “Score” also swipes from Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven” and its funky soundtrack; the result is a young-and-hip heist caper for the meritocratically impaired.

Six high-school seniors from Princeton, N.J., all facing less than stellar SAT scores, plan to steal a master copy of the test from the Educational Testing Service headquarters.

The gang of six, led by aspiring architect Kyle (Chris Evans), has a hook into the ETS enclave through a girl whose father owns the building — Ally Sheedy’s, er, Miss Johansson’s Francesca, the mouthy, melancholy nose-ringer of the bunch. Erika Christensen (“Traffic”) serves as the Molly Ringwaldian “girl who seems like she has it all, but really doesn’t.”

Rounding out the neo-brat pack is the jock (Darius Miles, an honest-to-goodness National Basketball Association player who, ironically, skipped college to go pro); the underachieving stoner (Leonardo Nam); and the oddball (Bryan Greenberg).

The movie fizzles into predictability soon enough, but it makes a few smart moves along the way.

Making the point that human personalities can’t be standardized — that was the easy part. But “Score,” borrowing from the white-collar milieu of Mike Judge’s “Office Space,” also paints the ETS as the dark center of an educational-industrial complex.

Boomer parents, too, come in for a nice thrashing. They seem concerned about their children’s education not so much for its own sake but as a reflection of their own smarts and egos and chutzpah.

The best part about “The Perfect Score” is, unsurprisingly, Miss Johansson. Even as she works with this lame-o material and a cast of young pretty things as dry as paste, she stands out. Her character is the only one who, by movie’s end, doesn’t collapse under the groaning story arc wherein everyone must learn an important life lesson.

One gets the feeling that if Miss Johansson’s character were written differently, with more cliche — even then, she wouldn’t have allowed herself to be toyed with.

Surviving bad movies: Any decent actor can do that. Transcending them, that’s a different matter. Scarlett Johansson has done that here. Perhaps she learned at the foot of the master, her “Translation” co-star Bill Murray, who was brilliant in “The Man Who Knew Too Little.”


TITLE: “The Perfect Score”

RATING: PG-13 (Profanity; sexual content; drug references)

CREDITS: Directed by Brian Robbins. Produced by Mr. Robbins, Roger Birnbaum, Jonathan Glickman and Michael Tollin. Story by Marc Hyman and Jon Zack. Screenplay by Mr. Hyman, Mr. Zack and Mark Schwahn. Cinematography by J. Clark Mathis.

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes.


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