Sunday, September 20, 2009

Jennifer's Body: Nice To Look At, But You Won't Respect Her In The Morning

Jennifer's Body is the story of one girl's tragic journey from ignorant bliss as a frumpy hanger-on to devil-powered bad ass with a body count, as she sheds the skin of her old life and sets off on the highway to hell. That girl shows depth and range of character throughout the film, anchoring a silly and thin (though maybe not by horror movie standards) plot on the kind of real girl character that makes movies like Heathers and TV shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer work so well.

But no matter how obviously and desperately the filmmakers want Jennifer's Body to be the new Heathers or Buffy, the similarities end with that one strong, well-rounded character--the one played by Amanda Seyfried (Mean Girls, Big Love).

Megan Fox is the one getting all the attention, what with her playing "Jennifer" and being stalkably attractive...but she's a better interview and pin-up girl than an actress. She's very convincing as "hot chick staring seductively/menacingly into camera," and absolutely Oscar-worthy as "hot chick walking slowly toward camera," but every time she opens her mouth you get a blank monotone line reading or stumbles and mumbles over Diablo Cody's too cool for school dialogue.

Yeah, this is the obnoxiously in need of editing Juno version of Diablo Cody, not the dialed down genius behind The United States of Tara. This is the Diablo Cody who overwrites every line even more than her own overwritten name in order to squeeze as much unnaturally clever lingo into every scene as Whedonly or Tarantinoly possible. But where Quentin Tarantino has the discipline to make his dialogue--kitchy or not--character appropriate, and Joss Whedon remembers to follow his conversational quirk with the necessary number of winks and nudges, Cody writes every character like a hive-mind collective competing for most popular ironic T-shirt slogan. It's distracting and grating, and in this movie it managed to deflate the big climactic moment that could have otherwise added depth to the flat personality of Jennifer.

J.K. Simmons was good at what he was asked to do, but his oddball character--a hook-handed teacher with a curly fro--was too inexplicably weird to not feel as forced as most of the film's dialogue. I also got a kick out of the basic premise that drives the story: loser emo band botches a satanic ritual meant to give them fame and fortune...bloodbath ensues.

And finally, while it's not a comic book movie, it does have a tie-in comic that I hear isn't awful, so it's got that going for it.

I didn't hate the movie, but there's too much distracting kitche and not nearly enough balls or bite to give it the instant cult status it thinks it deserves. I suspect the inevitable direct-to-video sequel will be far more satisfyingly trashy and hopefully won't suffer from a screenwriter trying to ape the overwriting of the original.

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