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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Jennifer's Body

Title: Jennifer's Body

Year of Release: 2009

Date Viewed: September 17th, 2010

MPAA Rating: R

If I was a paparazzi assigned to photograph Megan Fox, watching Jennifer's Body would make me a little uneasy about following her in the dark.

In this film, Fox plays high school hottie (What else?) Jennifer Check. Her longtime best friend is Needy Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried), a less popular but well rounded student who splits her time between hanging out with Jennifer and wooing her sensitive boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons).

While enjoying their night out at a popular bar, a bizarre series of events start to unravel that change Jennifer and Needy's relationship. Without any observable cause, the building burns down while the patrons are still inside, killing many of them. Jennifer and Needy escape harm, but Jennifer is then immediately abducted by the bar's hired entertainment for that evening; a rock band called Low Shoulder. The band's members act oblivious to the tragic happening that had just occurred and invite the out-of-sorts Jennifer to spend the remainder of the evening with them in the dark woods. (What could possibly go wrong there?)

Just hours later, Jennifer returns to civilization and makes a surprise visit to Needy's house, coughing up unidentifiable liquids with her face looking like a bad Halloween makeup job. Needy is too stunned to call for medical services and can only watch as Jennifer eats several random items from the refrigerator before disappearing again.

The following day, the town is saddened by the loss of the students killed in the fire, except for Jennifer. Nope. She's upbeat and perky as if nothing had happened and shows no signs of illness. Maybe the night was all just a nightmare in Needy's mind.

But the town's nightmare is far from over. Each passing day, a new body (always a male) is found with the limbs and organs torn apart. And Jennifer's behavior grows more and more dark. Is she responsible or involved with these gruesome murders? And what really happened to her that fateful night of the fire? Needy is determined to discover the truth, even if it kills her.

Megan Fox has received more than her fair share of criticism concerning her acting ability. But I actually think she's pretty good here. It may have just been a result of being coached the right way, but I swear that the first time I saw Fox's full-fledged demon face stare straight into the camera, my heart started racing and I felt uneasy. A theory then occurred to me to help explain why this movie had below average box office returns. Fox's main fanbase consists of young adult and teenage males who enjoy drooling over her good looks. After watching this movie, the same fanbase will begin to have nightmares about her instead of pleasant dreams. Where's the motivation there?

Amanda Seyfried is quickly becoming one of my new favorite actresses. Whatever situation however ridiculous the plot approaches, she sells it like a true drama queen. Despite being written as one dimensionally as everyone else, she still manages to bring much needed realistic credibility to her character.

I'm sad to report though that the great casting cannot save the horrendous plot pacing and laughable dialog.

Ah yes, the dialog. The real star of the show. I give credit to screenwriter Diablo Cody for creating an interesting enough story premise and avoiding the stale cliches of horror movie character's speech patterns. But she is trying WAY too hard here. Her writing style is polluted with what I like to call "Cody-isms." These quips were first made famous in Juno; another movie written by Cody. They can appear in several different forms: a play on words, a pop culture reference, combining two random words to make a phrase or sometimes even inventing new words. No matter which way, they are very easy to spot. Here are some of my favorites:

- "I just got Aquamarine on DVD. It's about a girl who's like half sushi."

- "You're jello, Chip. You're lime green jello and you can't even admit it to yourself."

- "Nice hardware, Ace."

- "The whole country got a huge tragedy boner over Devil's Kettle."

- "Freak-tarded."

- "I'm a hard-***** Ford-tough Mama bear."

And Cody is also a big fan of adding the words "and sh**" to certain sentences. Stereotypical high school talk. I wonder if that's how she speaks in real life too. Maybe during a table read, the producers decided to take a break and she said "I'm heading over to McDonalds to buy some hamburgers and sh**. You want anything?"

Or how about when she's telling a story about the night before. "So I met this guy at a bar. We were talking politics and sh**."

Or how about when she's explaining her troubles to the car dealer. "When I switched gears to reverse, it starts making noise and sh** and I'm like whatever so I tried to call you but I couldn't find your number and sh**."

Oh, and I almost forgot about the moment when Chip compared Needy to soy sauce because of how sweet she is. As someone who has never dated, I realize I am not in any position to give advice on the effectiveness of pick-up lines. But I would still like to strongly discourage my fellow males from ever trying that one.

This Russell Stover assortment of quips (my own Cody-ism) goes on for a long stretch of time before we finally get to see some thrills. But by the time these money moments are due up, I felt so embarrassed for the movie that it became hard to take anything seriously. I am not against blending horror and comedy elements. Sam Raimi and Joe Dante are both great at utilizing the best of both worlds into a coherent fun story. Where Jennifer's Body goes wrong is making the humor virtually irrelevant to what we are supposed to care about. The only way the formula works is if humor can turn a key scene into a different direction than what we anticipate, keeping the experience fresh. The movie thinks it's being fresh by referencing topical pop culture when in reality it's as stale as six week bread. (Another Cody-ism. That one was by accident. Ugh. I need to regroup.)

Do any scare scenes work? When the movie finished, I did notice myself sprinting upstairs a little faster than usual after turning off the basement lights. So I guess that has to count for something. Other scenes are set up unintentionally hilarious. Evidently, Devil's Kettle High School requires a long walk through a desolate field to reach the front door. Either that or our hero decided to take the scenic route for exercise purposes. "Who cares if the town has been plagued by a serial killer? I need to burn some calories!"

Megan Fox has shown some potential to be more than a pretty face actress here. But it will never be realized if she continues to accept roles that only construct new ways to show off her cleavage. Amanda Seyfried seems immune from a bad performance regardless of the material. And while Diablo Cody may have a shiny Oscar statue sitting on her shelf of accomplishments, it's clear that she still has much left to prove if she wants to be remembered as anything other than a flash in the pan.

Rating: 4

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