Someone is leaking answers to exam questions at Saint Donovan's High School. Problem is, they're the wrong answers fooling kids from different groups around campus. Aspiring reporter and perennial prank victim, Bobby Funke (Reece Thompson), is driven to crack this story if only to stop everyone else mispronouncing his surname as "funky." However, his editor Clara Diaz (Melonie Diaz), on whom he has a hopeless crush, assigns him to interview school president and basketball hero, Paul Moore (Patrick Taylor). In the midst of a game, Paul is apparently injured and Principal Kirkpatrick (Bruce Willis) discovers someone has broken into his office and stolen the SATs. Encouraged by sexy senior, Francesca Fachini (Mischa Barton), who happens to be Paul's girlfriend, Funke trails the missing test papers to the president's locker. Funke's exposé turns him into a campus hero overnight, while Paul ends up in a juvenile detention centre. But nagging doubts drive Funke to investigate further as he uncovers an elaborate conspiracy...
Narrated by our high school hero in faux hard-boiled gumshoe fashion, Assassination of a High School President boasts an amusing premise combining high school comedy with the conspiracy thriller and film noir genres. Working from a screenplay co-written by Kevin Jakubowski and Tim Calpin, first-time director Brett Simon transplants the conventions of classic detective yarns and Seventies conspiracy films a la All the President's Men (1976) onto a Catholic high school setting via witty scenes wherein Funke finds an informant in Paul's kid sister who tells all in return for some cuddly toys, or visits the school detention centre for repeat offenders (shot in steely blue-grey hues like a real prison), and even foils a mad sniper - albeit one firing paintballs. The idea is not too dissimilar from Brick (2006), although the execution is far more broadly comedic.
Jakubowski and Calpin both served on the production team for South Park, which is evident from the script's abundantly scatological, sex-obsessed, occasionally rather nasty and misogynistic black humour. Nonetheless, the film's portrait of a milieu riven with homophobia, semi-psychotic bullies, freaky sophomores forever exposing their genitals and wildly divergent cliques of supercilious high-achievers and obnoxious punk rebels, is well observed and certainly rang true with this Catholic school alumni, albeit leavened in Hollywood high school movie fashion by the presence of numerous glamorous girls in school uniform. More winning humour arises from Bruce Willis who is terrific as the foul-mouthed Principal Kirkpatrick, forever recalling his days in the Gulf War and at one point leading an assembly of glum kids in a patriotic sing-along. On the other hand, Cold Case star Kathryn Morris, vamping it up as the sexy, scatterbrained school nurse, and Michael Rappaport, as the genre standard maniacal team coach are sorely underused.
As a satire of American politics, the film does not cut as deep as say, Election (1999), but the parallels drawn between patsy president Paul Moore and John F. Kennedy are quite clever. Though slow-going and lacking in sympathetic characters, the film is blessed with a deliciously dry wit and a flair for surreal humour. It is also nice to see Mischa Barton finally find a role where she displays the charisma of her preteen promise in Lawn Dogs (1997).