Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Feb 19, 2004 4:30 pm 
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Never mind the movie. Just watch Leonardo Nam

Clad in haute-punk rags, Johanssen has fun (after Tokyo and Delft) flinging herself at a dude her own age, but Christensen and most of the young men are barely there. The exception is Nam's Roy. His baggy-pantsed idiot-savanting should be unbearable, but his comic timing is the only perfect score in this film. If a lazy Asian American kid with zero concern for studies seems almost too aggressively stereotype-upending, consider that he's still the best test taker of the lot, and the dispenser of voice-overed wisdom. Alas, to return to the analogy section, Roy's judgment might be all too telling: "X is to Y, as this shit is too boring." --Ed Park, The Village Voice, Jan. 28-Feb. 2004

Talking about a Chinese movie called I'm Your Birthday Cake (1995), the Asian DVD sales megawebsite HKFlix comments: "A silly and stupid film, but quite funny and entertaining." Exactly my point here, and you have to recognize that such things exist.

Ebert mentions ruefully that this movie about six kids who try to steal the SAT tests got much wider distribution than the smarter, darker Better Luck Tomorrow (also about highschoolers who dip into crime), and he’s right to note that some of the best stuff on celluloid never makes it to the mass market venues. It's true that cinema viewing in today’s America has its elitist side.

So does cinema reviewing. For an enjoyable movie with several charming performances, MTV distribution or not (which Better Luck Tomorrow had too, oddly enough), The Perfect Score has gotten bashed a lot more brutally than it deserves. Okay: the Ocean’s Eleven-style caper isn't convincing. What movie caper is? Let’s look at the brighter side. The caper isn’t really what this wholesome feel-good flick is about. It’s about setting reasonable goals, finding your inner worth, and falling in love with your fellow caper pals. There’s even an anti-drug message. Is that so bad?

Granted, the production isn’t stellar. It’s already too convenient that the kids’ high school is in Princeton, New Jersey, home of the SAT they’re out to steal. And then the movie never really establishes any sense of location or social context for the kids beyond themselves. The screenplay is not brilliant nor is the directing energetic. But the story’s well paced nonetheless, the caper's fun, and the leads are all nice to look at. On top of that, Scarlett Johansson is as sexy when she wants to be as she is talented.

The surprise, though, and the real reason to watch Perfect Score, is Leonardo Nam as Roy, the slacker mentioned above. Off the radar screen up till now, Nam turns out to be the most shameless Asian mugger since Takeshi Kaneshiro in Wong Kar Wai’s Fallen Angels. The rubber-faced Mr. Nam steals every scene he’s in and projects a mercurial persona that’s by rapid turns lascivious, cuddly, lazy, and brilliant. He's really fun to watch. I hope this opportunity isn’t a fluke: this guy’s got game. I want to see anything else he’s in. The fact that only the Voice noted Nam’s very cool performance shows that most critics – not to mention audience members – didn’t really see this movie; they only saw a bad remake of Breakfast Club, which the writers make the mistake of mentioning. The movie's not in that league. But neither did Breakfast Club have Leonardo Nam.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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