New Line Home Cinema presents
"I never really understood Julie. She actually thought hard work and determination would pay off. I mean, what a sucker."- Handsome (Trevor Fehrman)
Stars: Trevor Fehrman, Elden Hanson, Matthew Lawrence, Martin Starr
Other Stars: Griffin Dunne, Mary Tyler Moore, Jewel Staite
Director: Andrew Gurland
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, some language, and crude sexual references
Run Time: 01h:25m:56s
Release Date: 2003-03-18
DVD ReviewI suspect Cheats will irritate a lot of high school overachievers—those of us who studied like crazy in high school to get good grades and get into a good college (only to actually get to college and discover that no one cares what you did in high school). After all, it is a movie that glorifies the cheaters, the kids who never studied a day in their lives, but who still managed to pass because they had written all the answers on the bottom of their sneakers. The type-A kids who get nerded out about grades never like to see the slackers do well. At least, I didn't.
On the other hand, none of the cheaters at my high school were nearly this dedicated to their craft. Handsome (Trevor Fehrman) and his sidekicks Victor (Matthew Lawrence), Applebee (Martin Starr), and Sammy (Elden Henson), put so much effort into their schemes, they'd probably be better off studying and taking notes. The four are legends at North Point Academy, commanding respect from all à la Ferris Bueller for their ability to obtain a copy of any test, and to outwit any teacher.
Writer/director Andrew Gurland based his script on his own wayward adolescence, and the supplements seem to indicate it is a fairly faithful adaptation (Gurland doesn't seem to have purged fibbing from his system quite yet; his controversial 1998 documentary Frat House drew fire for staging scenes of fraternity hazing). That it is a true story doesn't excuse the poorly drawn characters, and aside from Handsome and Sammy, the group is rather one-note. Applebee, for instance, is the nervous wimp with the amazing ability to write "crazy small" (I admit, his colored copy of the periodic table onto a gum wrapper is impressive), and Victor is the tough guy, and kind of a jerk ("I kick ALL ass!"). Most of the supporting characters are similarly sketchy, though I suspect some of that might be intentional, as they are given on-screen subtitles with labels like "Teddy Blue the Teacher Curser" (the adorable Jewel Staite, from Firefly). The dialogue feels as forced as the characterizations, but it is pretty funny at times. What doesn't work is the flashback structure, which forces us to endure trite, tiresome voice-over, expositing the plot in nearly every scene. Whoever Gurland copied his "show, don't tell" homework from must have gotten the wrong answer.
The film only really succeeds when it shows the gang at work. The subplots about their dissolving friendships are underdeveloped, and the villain of the piece, the well-meaning principal (played by an over-the-top Mary Tyler Moore) is too nice to hate, especially since the cheaters are the ones to blame for their actions. But the scenes of them actually cheating are loads of fun, and they build suspense and allow the audience to partake in some vicarious rule breaking—there aren't nearly enough of them.
I'd wager that had something to do with New Line's decision to let Cheats (advertised in theaters as Cheaters—not to be confused with the excellent HBO film from John Stockwell) languish in detention for nearly two years before they finally dumped it straight to cable. That, and the fact that it looks more like a TV movie. This is Gurland's first dramatic effort, and his jiggling cameras and almost documentary style don't quite match the material. There is a great story in here somewhere, and the cheat sequences offer only a brief glimpse. The rest is just typical teen comedy material, fairly inoffensive, and ultimately forgettable.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: C+
|Aspect Ratio||1.85:1 - Widescreen|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Cheats is sort of an ugly film, but the DVD presentation seems to faithfully recreate the muddy visual style. The image is nice and crisp, with strong, solid colors. Black level is fair, and shadow detail is decent (some darker scenes lack definition). Grain is occasionally visible but not really intrusive. I didn't spot much in the way of edge enhancement, and aliasing only pops up in a few scenes.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: It's somewhat unusual to see a DTS track on such a low-key film, and I don't know that Cheats warrants the extra effort—both the DTS and DD 5.1 mixes fit the comedy mold. Dialogue is anchored in the center and always clear, and the front soundstage carries almost all of the action. The score opens up into the front mains and spreads into the surrounds a bit, but the rear channels are mostly silent throughout, only offering intermittent atmospheric enhancements. Both tracks sound identical to my ears, and though neither is really impressive, both certainly suit the film.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Drop Dead Gorgeous, Sugar and Spice, Little Nicky
3 Deleted Scenes
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Extras Review: The Real Cheats is an 18-minute video diary that follows Gurland to a reunion with his high school friends who inspired the film. Though a bit trying to watch due to the low quality of the audio and video footage, it is a worthwhile supplement that reveals just how personal the material was to Gurland. There is lingering resentment in the group over the way things turned out, and it is nice to see them sit down and hash it all out.
Three deleted scenes are included in anamorphic widescreen, and all were, as is usually the case, rightly cut. They don't fit well tonally with the rest of the film, and one in particular (Dad goes bananas) is really off the wall).
Rounding out the disc are trailers for three other underachieving New Line comedies: Drop Dead Gorgeous, Sugar and Spice, and Little Nicky.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsCheats is a mildly entertaining teen comedy that is sporadically quite engaging, but the script, despite its personal nature, feels hollow and formulaic. New Line's DVD, on the other hand, is quite nice, and I'd easily recommend a purchase to fans.
Joel Cunningham 2003-04-14