Shitty Movie Sundays: Detention (2003), or, Die Hard at a High School

Yep, it’s another low-budget Die Hard at a… flick, something that Dolph Lundgren has excelled at during his long and prolific career in shitty movies. Some are bad, some are awful, some are passable. I have yet to see a Die Hard at a… flick from Dolph that is excellent. But, the man has a lane, and he stays in it.

Released direct-to-video in 2003, Detention follows Dolph as Sam Decker, a former soldier who got fed up with soldiering after he witnessed American bombs destroy a building full of bad guys and child hostages in Bosnia. Now, ten years on, he’s a teacher at a rough and tumble inner city high school. He’s fed up with that gig, too, and hands in his resignation early one morning. Because he is leaving his principal in the lurch, Decker is assigned to supervise after school detention on his last day.

Meanwhile, a flamboyant drug dealer by the name of Chester Lamb (Alex Karzis), has hatched a harebrained scheme. A local police precinct has seized a massive amount of heroin that they are going to transport to a local incinerator. Their route takes them by Decker’s school. The plan is to break into the school after classes end for the day and use it as a base. Lamb and his gang — Gloria, Viktor, and Alek (Kata Dobó, Joseph Scoren, and Mif) — will hijack the truck carrying the heroin, drive it into the school’s auto shop, and load the heroin into cars that they have disguised as local police cars, then drive off into the sunset. Huh? What?

If it seems like that plan has at least one step too many, blame screenwriter John Sheppard. Why not just hijack the truck and drive away? It has no escort and they killed the driver and the cop riding shotgun. Why load the heroin into cop cars after hijacking it from a cop truck? Why use the school at all? These are not the only parts of the plot that make little sense. It’s impossible that so much gunfire and Detention 2003 DVD box artexplosions at a school at night would go unnoticed, regardless of whether the bad guys turned off the alarms and killed the one security guard (Alan Catlin). The vice president is also in town, meaning there is a secret service agent thereabouts (Daniel Enright), but the VP subplot fails to materialize at all.

This feels like a movie pitch in search of a plot, which is all too common in these Die Hard at a… flicks. The most important thing for director Sidney J. Furie and company is that they get Dolph into a school, and there is enough gunplay to satisfy audience expectations. Mission accomplished, but the production seemed so bereft of cash that there are barely enough cast members to sustain the film.

There are only six students that get any significant screen time, and only one of them ends up as cannon fodder. Even Chester’s group is too small for a film like this. How can there possibly be a Die Hard at a… flick with a body count that can be measured on one hand? Furie makes up for that by showering his film with the most inaccurate gunfire one is likely to ever see in an action flick. Everyone in this movie, good guys and bad, have the accuracy of a bottle rocket with the stick broken off.

All of this takes place in the school after hours, which fits right in with the budget. Detention was filmed at a pair of active high schools in Ontario, so there was only so much the production could do in the way of breaking stuff. There is plenty of destruction to be had, but a close look ruins the illusion.

My favorite moments of shitty filmmaking come in a sequence where one of the high school kids is driving a car down a hallway. He’s swerving left and right, banging into doors and lockers, causing much damage. Except that the lockers and doors are props mounted onto the walls. When he hits them, the props fall off the wall and one can see quite clearly that they are fake. When the car crashes into a school office, it’s obvious that it’s a prop that was constructed in the middle of the lobby. We love that here at Missile Test. There was no way the Hamilton, Ontario school district was going to let a movie mess up their schools, so the production had to make do. It’s enjoyable to see the lengths with which they had to go to get their security deposit back.

So, the plot is an afterthought, all the bullets are mostly harmless, and the destruction is ersatz. What about the acting? Oh, boy. Dolph has more life to him than in many of his movies, but I’ll be damned if I can recall him doing any serious running in this film. Like in many of his movies, he’s an action monolith, plodding from one scene to the next, like a hero with a hip condition. At that point in his career, it was a style. He did seem more into this film than some of his other flicks.

There are a couple of hams in the cast to act as counterweight to Dolph’s studied reserve, and those are Karzis, and Corey Sevier, who plays a student named Mick. Karzis is an over-the-top bad guy, one that will be familiar to fans of action flicks. We get it. He’s unhinged and wild. What was unexpected was Sevier’s performance. His character is a combo skater jock douche, and Sevier, a veteran actor, plays him like a character in a bad SNL skit — the kind of skit where exaggerated mannerisms and yelling are a poor substitute for humor.

Detention moves along well enough that it floats just above the murky depths of the Watchability Index, displacing The Devil Below at #283. That ain’t great, but it’s good enough for a fix.

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