‘Jennifer’s Body’: It’s no temple

September 16, 2009

“Jennifer’s Body” should belong to Diablo Cody, the Oscar-winning writer of “Juno.” It could have been an updated, horror-thriller version of “Heathers”: smart, witty, outrageously dark.


Two problems: Cody’s script is barely funny – and what humor there is gets crushed by the heavy-handed direction of Karyn Kusama and the marginal acting skills of Megan Fox.


Indeed, “Jennifer’s Body” belongs to Fox, who looks like sex on two legs, with her tight tops and come-hither smile. Once she starts talking, however, all bets are off. Not that she needs to be much of an actress for this film – but she’s barely able to walk and talk at the same time.


Fox plays, yes, Jennifer, the hottest girl in tiny Devil’s Kettle, Minn. She’s best friends forever with nerdy Anita “Needy” Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried). But despite showing Jen in a cheerleader’s outfit, the film does little else to establish her as some high-school queen-bee hottie. Well, OK, the hottie part kind of goes without saying.


What plot there is revolves around a visit to a local bar by a hot new band that Jennifer follows. She convinces Needy to go see them – and Needy ends up saving Jennifer’s life when the roadhouse bursts into flames in the middle of the band’s set. But then Jennifer hops into the band’s van and disappears, apparently accepting a groupie’s role while abandoning her best bud with barely a backward glance.


Jennifer pops up in Needy’s kitchen later that night, covered with blood and spewing black vomit. The next day in class, however, Jennifer seems none the worse for wear. When male classmates start turning up brutally disemboweled, Needy eventually figures out that Jennifer is responsible – some hocus-pocus about demons and ritual sacrifice involving that emo band she ran off with.


Given the intelligently witty twists on the teen comedy Cody wrought with “Juno,” one would hope she could work similar magic with a female-empowered horror movie. But her best dialogue is mangled by the verbally challenged Fox – not that there’s nearly enough solid writing to which she can lay waste.


A better director would have pushed Cody for more, better, funnier. Kusama, however, seems to view the dialogue as the filler between the horror sequences. The result is a story with a bare-bones concept without even a pretense at getting below the surface. The occult, the roadhouse fire, the vengeance – it would have been simple to tie it all together cogently with at least a nod at an illusion of depth. No such luck.


The blend of Fox’s expressionless performance and Seyfried’s more expressive one could have built an intriguing comic contrast – but doesn’t. Similarly, Adam Brody – as the sleazy lead singer of the band (whose popularity skyrockets after the fire) also has strong comic chops, which are wasted here.


Which leaves “Jennifer’s Body” as a dud: an unfunny horror comedy without enough laughs, scares or sex to be worth your time or money.


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