I’m a nervy rule breaker. No, wait, what I meant to say is that I’m a by-the-book drag.

OK, I’m neither, and neither is “The Perfect Score,” which pretends to be the former but ends up more like the latter. At first, it seems to be a relatively edgy teen comedy about six high-school students who challenge the take-the-SAT-or-take-the-highway college admissions system by swiping the test instead of actually boning up for it.

During the early part of the film, the dialogue is fresh (“You’re wired. The Red Bull did this.”) and so is the attitude, particularly whenever Scarlett Johansson is on-screen as one of the students.

There’s a future trivia question here, since – as in “Lost in Translation” – she is introduced via a shot of her panties, but her performance as a bitter, sardonic low-slung-belt buff is anything but trivial. Her part isn’t much different from Ally Sheedy’s in “The Breakfast Club” (the movie itself makes the connection), but nothing about the way Johansson plays it feels trivial.

The movie, on the other hand? Trivial. Particularly when it tries to have it both ways, and its Beat the Corrupt System theme morphs into Learn a Valuable Lesson.

The cast, which also includes the very funny Leonardo Nam, does what it can to keep things lively. But the movie’s mildly subversive message is lost when it suddenly becomes all about Be Yourself, Don’t Judge People, Talk to Your Parents, Cooperate With Others and Work Hard. Oh, and Take Your Vitamins, too.


2 1/2 stars

Directed by: Brian Robbins

Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson

Rated: PG-13, but there’s lots of raw language, as well as youthful drinking and pot smoking

Should you go? The story finks out, but the actors don’t.

(c) 2004, Saint Paul Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.).

Visit the World Wide Web site of the Pioneer Press at http://www.twincities.com/mld/pioneerpress/

Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

AP-NY-01-28-04 1114EST

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