One of the many comedies debuting at this year's Sundance Film Festival, Assassination of a High School President is a school-set spoof of film noir, with school paper journalist Bobby Funke (Reece Thompson) going from outcast to in-crowd when he dopes out who's been lifting SAT papers from the administration's office. Funke hits the means, motive and opportunity triple play and pins the thefts on student council president and basketball star Paul Moore (Patrick Taylor); his article earns him a coveted internship with Northwestern's journalism program and the affections of Moore's ex, Francesca (Mischa Barton). It's all looking good. Until it isn't. Funke learns new facts that make his sure-thing story look shaky; Northwestern is calling to fact-check the story, and if they find holes, his internship's over before its begun. But Funke's ready to walk the mean halls of St. Donovan's and scour the Jersey suburbs to get the story right. ...

Many critics and observers have already pigeonholed Assassination of a High School President as"Brick played for laughs." And yeah, that's a fairly simplistic assessment; then again, Assassination of a High School President's a fairly simplistic film. Written by ex-South Park production assistants Tim Calpin and Kevin Jakubowski (and between this film and Hamlet 2, it's interesting how the road to Park City, Utah seems to have had an on-ramp in South Park, Colorado this year), Assassination never quite clicks as a total experience. Yes, it's amusing when Thompson, in his self-celebrating inner monologue, says he'll be on the case " ... like pink rubber bands on your sister's braces." And director Brett Simon finds lively, well-shot moments of visual excitement in the clichés of high school life: detention is shot like the big house, a party sequence moves and grooves with giddy chaos. But Assassination has a meandering plot line that dithers when it should drive forward, and lingers at times it should leap ahead. As Funke works leads, we get scenes that expand the running time instead of advance the plot. And yes, holding this film's central pitch up to the life-and-death stakes of Brick -- one of the best films I've ever seen in seven years of attending Sundance -- is going to make the funny-and-goofy stakes of Assassination seem slighter in comparison.