Typically, the high-school movie is a moveable feast, flexible enough to play host to any number of different genres. From black satire to bouncy musicals, from adaptations of Shakespeare's tragedies to takes on Jane Austen's romantic comedies, the student corridors have accommodated them all.
But flexibility has its limits, and The Odds pushes them well past the breaking point. An attempt to import teens into the demimonde of film noir, it fails on both counts – the noir looks beige and the kids look ridiculous.
Several years ago, Brick tried something similar, yet had the good sense to add a coat of high style with a patina of irony. There, no one was meant to take the callow Bogarts too seriously – it was mainly just fun.
Not so here. Writer-director Simon Davidson serves up his script like an exercise in earnest sociology, straining our credibility right from the first frames.
That's when we discover that fresh-faced Desson (Tyler Johnston) and his buddy Barry are inveterate gamblers, dozing through their classes by day, while at night laying out big bets and running up bigger debts. Already, the loan sharks are circling.
Their haunt of choice is the gambling den run by a fellow student in the rec room of his parents' house. Crowded with teen players, the place is a veritable mini-casino, boasting crap tables and poker games and rounds of rum and Coke. Upstairs, mom and dad are apparently oblivious to the nocturnal doings below – heavy sleepers, perhaps.
Of course, noir narratives demand a corpse, and Barry is an early volunteer. Heavily in hock, with the vig rising daily and his creditors in a leg-breaking frame of mind, he turns up dead – an apparent suicide, although don't bet on it.
Not that the death of a teenager causes much of a stir in these dark surroundings, where the plot blithely marches on. Moreover, our anti-hero Desson has incurred his own debts, along with the usual friction from the inevitable love-interest – a raven-haired colleen named Colleen (Julia Maxwell).
Still, he does feel a measure of guilt about his late buddy, and sets out to solve the mystery of Barry's demise. The quest takes him from the kids' gambling den to the grown-up version, nestled in another subterranean lair: the basement of a Chinese restaurant.
While we're chewing on that cliché, Desson orders the Peking duck, then heads down to the action, only to get punched out by a crop-haired bouncer. Yet, even battered and eye-blackened, the boy proves plenty tough, and for an excellent reason – he's got more fights to fight, more chasers to elude, more clichés to wrestle.
By now, our credulity, once merely strained, is as badly beaten as Desson, and far less resilient. Mercifully, the poor thing is DOA by the time the yarn lurches through the rain to the hastily arranged climax. A good thing too, since the resolution doesn't merely defy belief but guns it down without a backward glance. Yes, belief's punishment is cruel and unusual.
The cast doesn't help, although, in their defence, wooden dialogue does tend to make for wooden performances. Ultimately, however, the real victim here is the high-school flick, which has always seemed so impressively stretchable, as elastic as youth itself. In that sense, at least, The Odds beats the odds – it somehow manages to turn infinite flexibility into rigor mortis.
- Directed and written by Simon Davidson
- Starring Tyler Johnston and Julia Maxwell
- Classification: NA
- 1.5 stars