The Movie Review: 'Jennifer's Body'

"Hell is a teenage girl," Jennifer's Body announces in its opening moments. But the film's thesis is really more particular: Hell is a teenage girl who has been unsuccessfully sacrificed to Satan by an alt-rock band and, as a result, finds that she has become a flesh-eating demon. It's a difficult case to contest.

After a brief prologue that finds the movie's good-girl protagonist, Needy Lesnicky (Amanda Seyfried), kicking ass and taking names in a penitentiary somewhere, the movie rewinds to explain how she arrived at this unhappy juncture. It begins when Needy's best friend, gigavamp Jennifer Check (Megan Fox), persuades her to go to a club out in the sticks--really, less a club than a low-slung, rural dive boasting what must be the last jukebox in the country that offers Foreigner without irony. Jennifer's plan is to seduce the cute vocalist, Nikolai (Adam Brody), of the band playing there, and she wants Needy along to play wing-girl.

But during the performance, sparks fly--the real kind--and the whole venue burns to the ground, with the girls and the band barely escaping with their lives. Jennifer is in shock, and creepy Nikolai seizes the moment, pouring a large drink into her underage mouth, hustling the dazed girl into the band's van, and driving off with her. "I watched her get into that van and just knew something awful was going to happen," Needy announces, in the most unnecessary scrap of voiceover to hit multiplexes this year.

When it comes, though, the awful thing is at least not the usual awful thing: Late the same night, Jennifer shows up at Needy's house, covered in blood and declaring herself famished. After wolfing down an entire Boston Market chicken, she roars like a banshee and then vomits a river of black ooze. This is not, one assumes, the product placement the Boston Market folks were hoping for.

Needy doesn't know it yet, but Jennifer has been transformed from a proverbial maneater into a literal one, and it is not long before she begins working her way through the male student population. Boys being boys, and Jennifer being Megan Fox, these one-night rends take the form of an easy bait-and-switch in which she promises one form of carnal association but delivers another altogether--intercourse supplanted by main course. Suffice it to say that if you do not want to see Megan Fox cupping her hands to lap up the bloody innards of a boy she has just disemboweled, this is not the movie for you.

Indeed, even if that image appeals, Jennifer's Body is still probably not the movie for you. Considerable talent was involved in making the film: penned by Diablo Cody, whose one previous script, for Juno, took home an Oscar; directed by Karyn Kusama, whose 2000 Girlfight was a burst of fresh air; and starring two of the more in-demand young actresses of the moment in Fox and Seyfried. One would expect Jennifer's Body to offer more than your typical C-grade horror flick. Alas, it doesn't.

Perhaps the most obvious flaw is the extraordinary dullness of the plot: Its setup in place, the movie proceeds in a straight line to its preannounced destination--Needy in the slammer--with nothing that could plausibly be described as a twist, let alone a clever one, along the way. Jennifer kills a boy, taunts Needy, kills another boy, taunts Needy again, targets Needy's boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons), etc., etc.. Kusama directs this flow-chart narrative with a distinct absence of panache or imagination. There's hardly a sight or idea in the film that hasn't been presented, and presented better, half a dozen times before. (Birds flap out of the darkness, faucets drip ominously.) Moreover, the film is oddly slack and slothful. Material like this should sprint, but Jennifer wallows, with scene after scene extending several beats too long, like a television episode painfully stretched out to feature length.

The better teen-horror tales tend either to play self-consciously with genre expectations (say, the Scream franchise) or to offer themselves as ironic metaphors of adolescence (say, "Buffy"). But while Jennifer's Body takes a few stabs at the latter formula, selling itself as a refracted take on friendship between girls, it never gets under the skin. Mean Girls was hardly an exercise in comparative sociology, but at least it had something to say about the ways teen girls treat one another. Jennifer's Body's deepest--and most deeply commercial--behavioral insight is that a demonically possessed girl will find an occasion, just once, to French kiss her best friend.

The script is liberally salted with the trademarked Cody indie-pop banter that Juno made famous, although some lines land more cleanly than others: Jennifer's quip to a jealous Chip--"You're totally Jell-o, lime-green Jell-o"--has a certain zing to it; Needy's taunt as she prepares to stab demon-Jennifer--"Know what this is? A box cutter"--doesn't. And even the better jokes feel untethered. In Juno, the ironic one-liners embellished a sharper story and stronger central performance; here, they're ornaments without the tree. It doesn't help that, unlike Juno's Ellen Page, Fox and Seyfried never quite make the dialogue their own. Even as they speak, their words still belong to Cody.

The wiser-than-wise patter of Juno also worked in large part because the character herself was fundamentally innocent, and the dissonance was endearing. The jokes about the meanness of Diana Ross and her own status as a "cautionary whale" gave Juno MacGuff an edge. But Jennifer Check is all edges to begin with (well, and curves). Coming from the mouth of a predatory Megan Fox, Cody's dialogue, which always flirts with self-satisfaction, too often feels like the smug growling of the overdog.

Indeed, there's something a bit sour about the whole enterprise, a lack of fun that becomes more evident as the injuries and indignities piled upon poor Needy accumulate, and gradually crowd out the film's early tongue-in-cheekiness. Levity gives way to an unearned gravity, and Jennifer's Body sinks like a stone.

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