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Jennifer’s Body

Directed by Karyn Kusama

Starring Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, J.K. Simmons

**1/2

In terms of physical appearance, you couldn’t ask for a better actress to play the title role of the new horror comedy Jennifer’s Body than Hollywood’s current It Girl Megan Fox.  While she frequently comes across as charisma-challenged in interviews (although flashes of dark wit have bubbled to the surface in a few of her press encounters), she is a genuine stunner on-screen.  So it makes complete sense to cast her as the high-school vixen every teenage girl wants to be and every teenage boy wants to be with.  If you’ve seen the trailer, of course, you already know the central joke of the movie: Jennifer is a literal man-eater-feasting off the flesh of the horny boys at school is what keeps her looking so hot.  In addition to being a pretty funny set-up for a high-school horror picture, this premise also allows Fox to prove she can do more than just stand around in skin-tight, cleavage baring clothes looking at giant transforming robots with her mouth oh-so-subtly parted.

If only that were the case.  Sadly, it becomes clear about five minutes in that Fox hasn’t been holding back on us all this time-she really is a terrible actress.  Even when she manages to nail a line reading, you only have to look at her eyes to see that there’s nothing going beneath that pretty, placid exterior.  A juicy bitch-from-hell part like this one cries out for a performer that can milk the role’s humor and horror for all its worth.  Think of what an Opposite of Sex-era Christina Ricci or Billy Bob Thornton-era Angelina Jolie (the actress Fox aspires to replace) could have done with this character.  Hell, even Amanda Seyfried, cast here as Fox’s plain-jane best friend Anita, would be a funnier, freakier, sexier Jennifer than her more downloaded co-star.

To be fair to Fox for a moment, she’s not the sole reason the movie ultimately falls short of what it could have been; that blame has to fall on Diablo Cody, the former stripper-turned-screenwriter who won an Oscar two years ago for penning the much-loved indie comedy Juno.  As irritating as that movie is in some respects (“This is one doodle that can’t be undid, homeskillet” remains one of the worst lines in the entire history of cinema), it is a model of narrative efficiency and tonal consistency.  Jennifer’s Body, on the other hand, is all over the place and Cody and her director Karyn Kusama can’t seem to keep up with their own creation.

The movie is at its best when it chronicles the sexual hang-ups of teenagers, a subject that Cody exploits more successfully than 99% of the other screenwriters in Hollywood, largely because her teen characters aren’t ashamed of their libidos.  Like Juno, Jennifer’s Body treats sex in a refreshingly matter-of-fact manner, most notably in a storyline involving Anita’s relationship with her dorky boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons).  Instead of the usual “will-they-or-won’t-they” tension, it’s made obvious very early on that they already have and plan to again.  Cody also deserves credit for turning the old horror movie cliché of the town slut that’s punished for enjoying sex on its head by allowing the unapologetically promiscuous Jennifer to have her guys and eat them too.

While Cody has a knack for capturing the way teenagers think, she still goes overboard trying to mimic the way they speak.  Perhaps not realizing-or, more likely, not caring-how grating Juno‘s pop-culture laden dialogue was to listen to, she continues to force faux-hip slang into the characters’ vernacular.  In Cody’s universe, people aren’t just “jealous,” they’re “jello” (“lime green jello” if they’re extra jealous), attractive guys are “salty” and “move on dot org” is what you tell someone who is still obsessing over something that’s so five minutes ago.  If you think this stuff sounds stupid on paper, just imagine how it comes across on screen.

Which brings us to the movie’s biggest failing: Jennifer’s Body is a horror comedy that’s neither very scary nor very funny.  Interestingly, both Cody and Kusama seem most comfortable when avoiding the material’s genre trappings and focusing on the mundanity of life at a small-town high school.  There’s also a funny running gag involving an emo indie rock band (led by The O.C.‘s Adam Brody, finally playing a character that’s not simply a clone of Seth Cohen) that could be spun off into its own movie.  But the actual “horror” elements-most notably the scenes involving gore-are poorly handled.  Setting their sights on crafting a 21st century version of Heathers and Scream, the creative forces behind Jennifer’s Body instead deliver a movie that’s just slightly superior to C-grade material like Teaching Mrs. Tingle.  There’s a good movie in here somewhere-it just required a few more rewrites to find it.

Verdict: Rent It

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