‘Assassination Of A High School President': A Sundance Review

Sundance 2008 has unveiled its first truly great film.

Tuesday morning, a group of bleary-eyed moviegoers stumbled into the Yarrow theater, nursing their mocha lattes. The lights went down, the projector lit up, and we were transported to the distinctive, hilarious and twisted world of “Assassination of a High School President,” starring Mischa Barton, Bruce Willis and 19-year-old Reece Thompson in a role that should make him 2008’s Michael Cera (or, at the very least, Jason Schwartzman).

The flick plays like “Rushmore” meets “The Usual Suspects,” alongside shout-outs to everything from “Sixteen Candles” to “Chinatown” to “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” This unlikely concoction is blended together to bring us Bobby Funke, a 21st-century gumshoe who just so happens to have a chewing gum addiction. A rookie reporter for his high school paper, Funke thinks he’s made his career when he takes down the most popular kid, writing an exposé on the jock’s theft of the SATs.

After the president’s sexy girlfriend (Barton) and unscrupulous buddies befriend him, Funke begins to smell something unpleasant — and it’s not just because the kid who sits behind him in Spanish class farted in his face.

The film’s central mystery keeps you guessing intelligently, but brilliantly balances every reference to Nietzsche with a joke about a chocolate swirly. Bruce Willis is hilariously intense, Mischa brings the femme fatale back for a new generation, and the supporting cast is filled with breakout young stars. The soundtrack is also one you’ll definitely want to buy, highlighted in scenes like Funke’s crazy, impromptu dance scene that seems like something Napoleon Dynamite might whip out.

The only downside of the film is it feels a bit long, even with a runtime of 90 minutes. Those behind the film plan to make some small tweaks before its August release, and it seems like a tiny bit of streamlining could yield an instant classic. My only fear is that since it is most reminiscent of the recent cult classic “Brick,” it might have a similarly difficult time getting moviegoers to give it a chance; if they do, however, word of mouth will be strong.

For a taste, check out some clips from the flick here.

Much like “Juno” and “Superbad,” the film is stuffed with so many rapid-fire laughs that you’ll need to watch it multiple times — especially so you can memorize all the super-quotable lines. I’ve seen the future of movies, folks, and it’s looking Funke.

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