Assassination of a High School President is yet another Hollywood tragedy that had all the promise in the world, but, through bad turns of offscreen circumstance, never got the shot in theaters it deserved.
The film was a hit at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and people were calling it the next Brick - pretty much because both films are homages to the Film Noir era, set against the backdrop of modern high school. After the Yari Group, the owners of the film, went bankrupt, the film's fate was left to question. Assassination of a High School President has finally been released direct-to-DVD this week and we've got the review for you.
The plot of Assassination of a High School President follows Bobby Funke (Reece Thompson), a hard-nosed reporter (and geeky sophomore) working for the school paper, who can never quite finish his epic conspiracy stories. While covering a piece profiling St. Donovan's High School Class President, Paul Moore (Patrick Taylor), Funke stumbles onto an actual conspiracy involving Moore and some missing SAT exams stolen from the safe of militant school Principal, Mr. Kirkpatrick (Bruce Willis). When the evidence of the crime points to Moore, Funke writes the expose of his short career, winning him popularity, friends, and even the affections of Moore's girlfriend, Francesca (Mischa Barton).
However, like any good Noir, all is not as it initially seems at St. Donovan's...
It really is hard to discuss Assassination of a High School President and NOT mention Brick. For those already stuck on the comparison, I'll tell you this: Brick is what I would call "hard-boiled Noir," whereas Assassination of a High School President is more "soft-boiled Noir." Brick honored classic Film Noir down to imitating the genre's style of the filming, the types of shots and sequences Noir pioneered, and even the style of language used for the dialogue - straight 40s-era Noir slang.
Assassination of a High School President honors the plot conventions of old-school Film Noir (double and triple-crosses, femme fatales, back-alley buddies who help the gumshoe along...), however this film doesn't take itself nearly as seriously as Brick did. Every time Funke revs himself up into a Noir-style monologue, or a rant about how St. Donovan's is a "prickly pear - if you want the juice you gotta know where to bite," the rug is pulled out from under him (and us) by a Spanish teacher insisting the young student "Habla en Español," or Principal Kirkpatrick freaking out because Funke is chewing gum in his hallway, etc.
The tongue-and-cheek winks are the reason I think Assassination of a High School President will be much more accessible to viewers who want to enjoy some fun, beginner's Noir. You don't need a dictionary to watch it, and the high school microcosm is something we're all familiar with to some degree. Add to that the fact that writers Tim Calpin and Kevin Jakubowski have managed to come up with a script that is at once a refreshing high school flick AND a pretty solid Noir caper, and the film really does stand out as an entertaining mesh of genres. Director Brett Simon compliments the script well, borrowing just the right amounts of style from past Noir films and classic high school comedies.
The performances are pretty good, too. Thompson, an unlikely leading man, carries the film pretty well on his frail shoulders. The supporting cast of young actors are also pretty good - most notably Emily Meade, Vincent Piazza and (I believe) Michael Zegen, who play the trio of 'detention kids' that Funke pumps for info and the occasional favor. The three of them had me cracking up more than once throughout the film.
As for the big names over the title: Bruce Willis is hilarious as Iraq War (no. 1) vet Principal Kirkpatrick; you gotta see the scene where he forces the whole school to sing his self-written song, "American (That's What I am)". Funny stuff. As for Barton... well, she's there, wide-eyed as usual, but at this point it's kinda of weird to see the actress STILL playing a high school student so long after her stint on The O.C. But she doesn't really get in the way, so...
One problem of this film never getting a chance in theaters is that I can't find any info about the soundtrack, which is a pretty good mix of modern alt rock tunes. If anybody out there knows the track listing, please let me know in the comments.
As for what extras the DVD offers:
- Filmmaker Commentary
- Alternate versions of the movie's slick and stylish opening montage
- Extended and Alternate Scenes
- Deleted Scenes
- Previews of upcoming features
The Alternate openings are interesting to watch - though the filmmakers clearly chose the best version for the finished cut. The rest of the alternate/deleted scenes are okay - but again, all they really do is demonstrate that the right edits were made so that the finished version is the best it could be.
Assassination of a High School President is currently available for sale on DVD. You can also rent it on Netflix. It's worth a watch.