Reviewed June 6th, 2003 by David Nusair
Cheats (formerly known as Cheaters; retitled to avoid confusion with a Jeff Daniels flick of the same name) was due for release in the Spring of 2001. Posters were hung and a trailer was commissioned. But then the film kept getting delayed, until finally, it premiered last year on an American movie channel. It is finally on video, and guess what? There is a reason it took so long to see the light of day.
The film follows the adventures of four friends as they attempt to cheat their way through high school. Their leader, the enigmatic and charming Handsome Davis (Trevor Fehrman), has an uncanny ability to weasel himself out of any situation. Davisí best friend is Sammy Green (Elden Henson), a well-meaning nice guy that doesnít necessarily want to spend all his time working on elaborate methods of cheating. Rounding out the group are Jonathan Applebee (Martin Starr), whose skill of writing really small is perfect for crib sheets, and Victor Barone (Matthew Lawrence), the resident hothead.
And thatís the primary problem with Cheats: Thereís absolutely no story here. Writer/director Andrew Gurland, who based his screenplay upon his own experiences in high school, packs the film with quirky characters and a multitude of bizarre situations, never bothers to introduce a plot. So, while it may have been a little interesting watching these guys cheat and cheat (and cheat), it eventually becomes incredibly dull. We do not really learn much about these characters, aside from the superficial. Handsome tells us, via voice-over narration, that heís been cheating since kindergarten Ė but why? Itís a key question thatís never answered, even though itís impossible not to wonder why these seemingly intelligent guys wouldnít just study.
But even if you accept the fact that theyíre just lazy, it still doesnít make up for the fact that the movie isnít about anything. It certainly does not help that the lead character is a smug and obnoxious twerp, exacerbated by Fehrmanís irritating performance. As played by Fehrman, Handsome becomes a cartoonishly exaggerated version of a real-life figure; everything about the performance is over-the-top and unbelievable. As such, the actor obliterates any possibility of the audience caring about the character Ė we would like nothing more than to see the little jerk caught and sent away to boot camp. The other actors do not fare nearly as poorly, with Henson proving yet again that heís an underrated young actor (check out The Mighty for a better example of his abilities). Mary Tyler Moore even pops up as the schoolís principal, and though her comedic timing is as effective as ever, her appearance is somewhat jarring (sheís quite obviously had a lot of surgery done on her face).
Cheats couldíve been a decent little movie, had Gurland taken a step back and accepted some help on the screenplay. But as it is, itís essentially unwatchable Ė unlikely to appeal to anyone other than undiscriminating teenagers.
Audio: Amazingly enough, Cheats comes equipped with both DD 5.1 and DTS 6-channel soundtracks. This isnít exactly a flick with a lot of use for such an aggressive soundtrack, so either will suit your purposes. Having said that, thereís no denying that the DTS track has a lot more depth to it Ė but really, either will do (even the also-included DD 2.0 soundtrack is fine).
Video: This anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1 transfer is, not surprisingly, quite clean and crisp. Given how new the film is and the fact that this is a New Line release (itís impossible to be disappointed by one of their transfers), itís not such a stretch to imagine that this transfer is pretty great.
Extras: The major extra here is a 17-minute documentary on the real-life figures behind Cheats, with director Gurland clearly meant to be Handsome. Gurland proves to be just as annoying as his on-screen doppelganger, so perhaps Fehrmanís portrayal wasnít that far off the mark after all. Thisíll probably appeal to fans of the movie, but really, all these guys are just to sleazy to actually care about them at all. Also included are three deleted scenes (one of which is particularly terrible, involving Handsomeís efforts to goad his father into hitting him), and three trailers (Cheats, Drop Dead Gorgeous, and Sugar and Spice).
Conclusion: Cheats is an all-around mess. Avoid it.
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