By Stephanie Zacharek
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Stalking the crucial puberty-to-prom-night demographic can be a hazardous business, leading studio bankers and unwary moviemakers into some gruesomely familiar dead ends. That's just what's happened in the case of a sleep-inducing teen melodrama called Jawbreaker. Billed as the inevitable result of all the suburban slasher flicks and high-school comedies its 26-year-old writer/director, Darren Stein, ingested as a boy growing up in Southern California's San Fernando Valley, it's less parody than homage--and less homage than low-rent rehash.
Drain the terror from Carrie, the wit from Clueless and the attitude from Scream, splice the sorry remnants together with a naughty scene involving a boy, a girl and a pink ice pop, and you've pretty much got this latest wallow in adolescent angst.
Stein's screenplay, he reveals, is the fruit of seven full days at the computer terminal. It chronicles the misdeeds of a dedicated teen vixen named Courtney Shayne (Rose McGowan) and the two catty sidekicks, Julie Freeman (Rebecca Gayheart) and Marcie Fox (Julie Benz), she hauls around with her in the hormone-ravaged halls of fictional Reagan High School. Self-absorbed and proud of it, our Courtney comes equipped with a resolute smirk, a brand-new convertible and the vocabulary of a drunken sailor. These assets qualify her as Reagan High's reigning bitch goddess, with Julie, Marcie and a fourth girl, Liz Purr (Charlotte Roldan), as a supporting cast. "The beautiful ones," a classmate observes. "The flawless four. They totally ruled."
But vixens always screw up, don't they? As a birthday prank, Courtney and company kidnap Liz, stuff a big gumball in her mouth and throw her in the car trunk. Duh. The poor girl chokes to death, and the conniving Courtney has to spend the remainder of these ninety agonizing minutes trying to keep the dark secret under wraps. That means threatening her underlings, tossing one of them (Julie) out of the clique and inducting a new member who has inadvertently stumbled onto the accident. In the overheated world of juvenile pulp fiction, the newcomer has to be an outsider--in this case, the class nerd, Fern Mayo (Judy Evans Greer). As deft with an evil bargain as she is with a mascara brush, Courtney transforms the wallflower into a bombshell she christens "Vylette." Reagan High goes bonkers. Vylette gets a swelled head and a red Corvette.
"I made you, and I'm God," Courtney must remind her creation.
Apparently, this sentiment also afflicts certain 26-year-old moviemakers working on their rookie features. Before letting us up for air, Stein trots out virtually every tattered cliche of the teen horror/high-school-cruelty genre--including semi-bitchy dialogue, hopelessly lame grownups, demonstrations of teen social power in the school cafeteria and the obligatory prom-night scene in which the villainess gets her comeuppance.
Through it all, Courtney and her friends sashay through the school corridors in a series of butt-hugging leather skirts and stiletto heels that make them look a lot more like streetwalkers working a dentists' convention than teenagers on their way to algebra class. This sartorial fantasy, I suppose, falls under the umbrella of poetic license. The same can't be said for the egregious lapses of logic that escaped Stein's notice during his arduous week of screenwriting. As he sees it, teen power-mongering on this scale is blessedly free of parental curiosity about the death of a child, of autopsy procedure, even of adolescent skepticism about the sudden transmogrification of a classmate.
Oh, well. Jawbreaker is likely to enjoy its two weekends of lively business in the multiplexes, and the CD will probably sell a few copies, thanks to the presence--at the prom and on the soundtrack--of an aggressive girl group called the Donna's. Each of the Donna's (their apostrophe, not mine) calls herself "Donna" and displays Olympic-caliber leaping ability in lieu of musicianship.
The whole experience makes you yearn for Sissy Spacek's old telekinetic powers. Always a teenager of taste and discernment, Carrie could likely disappear this bad imitation of a movie in an instant, and nobody on the planet would so much as whimper.
Written and directed by Darren Stein. Starring Rose McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart, Julie Benz and Judy Evans Greer.
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