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Film review: 'Detention' What is to be done with unruly students, the kind who don't want to learn, who don't respond to traditional discipline and reason? How about putting them naked in a cage outside town and scaring them into becoming scholars?

4 August 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Not to be confused with another education-themed film directed by Darryl Lemont Wharton with the same title, Texas filmmaker Andy Anderson's "Detention" is a long, dubious drama exploring the notion of tough love taken to bizarre extremes and apparently working. The competently produced but thematically shaky independent premiered at the USA Film Festival in Dallas.

Starting as a clunky knockoff of "Dangerous Minds", the anything-but-uplifting tale of the current state of American high schools turns into "Mr. Horror's Opus" when creepy substitute teacher Bill Walmsley (John Davies) abducts several of the baddest coeds and literally shocks them when they so much as use swear words. But as the students adapt to the conditions, Walmsley's strict rules and schedules transform them into erudite savages.

While Walmsley has a murky past and comes off for much of the film as a villain, his initially brutal treatment of the vain, violent, vapid teens (Meason Wiley, Forrest Denbow, Brandy Little, Jonathan Brent, Susana Gibb, Kirk Kelley, Rebecca Sanabria) is a bit loco. In fact, it's downright sadistic -- including coldblooded murder of one student, sleep deprivation, exposure, malnutrition and psychological conditioning -- and one hopes the victims will escape from the derelict circus.

To complicate things somewhat, another, more kindly teacher (Marsha Dietlein) searches for the missing students and does the usual detective work. Fearing that Walmsley is up to no good, she finds the captives docile and not exactly happy to see her. Soon, she's helping Walmsley with the finishing touches of their curriculum.

The film's jokey end -- the victims cashing in on their ordeal -- is particularly unsatisfying. While "Detention" may be a fantasy reflecting the older generation's frustration with today's unruly youth, it resorts to cheap laughs and unconvincing dramatics. One admires some performances among the young cast, but there's nothing particularly noteworthy about the direction of Anderson ("Positive I.D".), a professor at the University of Texas.


Andersonfilm presents a Robert J. Castaldo production

Writer-director: Andy Anderson

Producers: Robert J. Castaldo, Kirksten C. Irick

Executive producers: Howard Stone, Karen Stone

Director of photography: Gary L. Watson

Production designer: James Kanan

Editor: Robert J. Castaldo

Costume designer: Connie O'Brien

Music: Johnny Reno

Casting: Lisa Lancaster



Bill Walmsley: John Davies

Louise Germain: Marsha Dietlein

Davey: Meason Wiley

Joey: Forrest Denbow

Tracey: Brandy Little

Willie: Jonathan Brent

Julie: Susana Gibb

Tony: Kirk Kelley

Maria: Rebecca Sanabria

No MPAA rating

Running time -- 131 minutes


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