Wednesday, October 21, 2009



ASSASSINATION OF A HIGH SCHOOL PRESIDENT made a big splash on the film festival circuit. It seemed destined to be a box-office winner. It is a high school film with the dark, crassly sophisticated trappings of HEATHERS. There is also a blatant neo-noir presence in this film that brings to mind the superior Rian Johnson film BRICK. With drug habits on par with those in Robert Rodriguez’ high-school flick, THE FACULTY, all of the pieces seemed to be in place. But the pieces were not in place, and ASSASSINATION went straight to DVD. After viewing it, I can see why a big studio wouldn’t want to take a theatrical risk on this project. ASSASSINATION tells its story and delivers its lines well, but in the end, the film is a miasma of limp references to other stronger, smarter films.

The drawing power of ASSASSINATION OF A HIGH SCHOOL PRESIDENT is obviously Bruce Willis who plays Principal Kirkpatrick. Willis completely becomes the war-ravaged, socially inept principal that he is supposed to be. Willis’ presence is so strong and menacing that the viewer pines for him whenever he is not onscreen.

Likewise Michael Rapaport who is only in ASSASSINATION for a solid two minutes as Coach Z makes a big impact. Together Rapaport and Willis completely eclipse the rest of the cast. Josh Pais as Senor Newell is also somewhat noteworthy, but the rest of the cast is a bunch of bland throwaways. Some critics have been citing Mischa Barton (The OC) as a driving force in this film, but she is sleepwalking. She had to be slightly conscious to do her topless bathtub scene, and I am sure that scene is what this film will be remembered for.

ASSASSINATION is about Bobby Funke (Reece Thompson) who wants to write for the student paper at his prep school. Funke is a high school nothing. His claim to fame is that he was the “freshman tied to the snowman’s penis.” Funke’s noir voiceover and trench coat crudely place this film on Chandler’s doorstep. The problem is that Chandler’s work had an element of class, whereas ASSASSINATION is perpetually locked in vulgar, juvenile musings and profanity. Funke is given his first assignment to do a write-up about the school president, Paul Moore (Patrick Taylor). Funke soon cracks open a conspiracy that has him both running for his life and growing up.

The femme fatale is Francesca Fachini (Mischa Barton), Paul Moore’s girlfriend. When Moore gets busted for stealing all of the SAT tests, Francesca throws herself at Funke like a focused temptress. Francesca has something up her sleeve, and her blatant, heated sexual attention to Funke is unnerving. If that isn’t strange enough, Francesca’s half-brother Marlon Piaza (Luke Grimes) is now the new president of the school.

Through a nerdy brand of high school journalism, Funke is able to determine that something is really, really wrong with the initial story he broke about Paul Moore. In fact, Moore was a patsy, but for whom? The rest of the film is a voyage into the perverse world of high school shenanigans as we get closer to the answer.

ASSASSINATION is obviously supposed to be a dark comedy with Shakespearean repercussions, but it isn’t successful in either of those departments. With possibly two sincerely funny moments in this film, it is forced to stand on its noir and dramatic footings. Both elements are strong, but not strong enough to carry the film. Ultimately ASSASSINATION is merely a scrapbook of ideas. None of the ideas are original, and all have been done better before. The cleverness behind the title of the film is what people like me are supposed to glom onto. Unfortunately, I can’t get clear of the murk I had to swim through in order to specify any of its cleverness. ASSASSINATION is an emaciated ghost of better films. Willis and Rapaport gave more to this film than it deserved. If it wasn’t for their performances, this thing would be a complete waste of time.

-Mediasaurus Rex