The most surprising thing about the new teen comedy to brace our screens this summer - and new is relative here, as this is a summer 2006 film - is that it's directed by a woman. Betty Thomas, the oft mediocre powerhouse behind I Spy
and 28 Days
, is so out of depth in understanding female sensibilities and high school politics, that it comes as a shocker that the film has any vestiges of entertainment.
The idea here is not to break any new ground at all, you understand. This is a film content with being a high school entertainer pandering to the short attention span of its target audience, and making a fast buck in the process. There is no hidden depth, witty writing or individual vision powering this film. It is an unabashedly factory product, so it begs the question, as pre-packaged pap goes, how is
Well, fun. There is a refreshing self-awareness in the proceedings and there is something to be said for the spunk of the girls in the film. When the girls get together to mete out 'death' to John Tucker, there is a determination that is hard to miss, and a spirit that continues in the entire film. Of course, it is not literal death that they want to be dealt as punishment.
When three high school girls from different social cliques in a high school find out that the resident basketball heartthrob on campus, John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe), has been cheating on them at the same time, they decide to combine forces and different understandings of the campus politics to deal out social death to Tucker. Heartbreak and humiliation, the equivalent of death on high school campus anyway, is their motive. Ashanti, Sophia Bush and Arielle Kebbel play these roles with a fierce spirit and sense of anything goes fun.
The tool of their revenge is Kate (Brittany Snow), a lonely child who has grown up in different parts of the country simply because her sexy mom (Jenny McCarthy - as sexy as they get, really) just moves whenever she goes through heartbreak, of which she has had many. This makes Kate the new girl wherever she goes, and she has become something of an outcast by now.
You know what happens next - Kate is used as a romantic foil to the revenge device by the über popular trio who are out to get Tucker. In the process, Kate learns how to date, gets popular and pretty, and has her first kiss. This then is entire conceit of the film. While this gives a lot of room for Brittany Snow to flex her still developing acting muscles (and she does do a good job as the repressed turned emancipated girl next door), the whole film gives very less room for Jesse Metcalfe to do anything.
Just as well, because as wooden as they come, Metcalfe lacks even the screen presence that is needed for the role of a jock. His obvious charisma from television's Desperate Housewives does not translate onto film, and for what it's worth, it's a good thing that even though he is the titular character, and the whole film revolves around his eventual shame, he does not have any lines of consequence.
But this is a teen comedy and it probably does not need everyone to be great thespians. What it does need, however is a witty and smart script and a direction that makes it stand out. This is high school after all, and unless you're very very good, you're just a part of the crowd, yes? Well, the script is uninspiring and highly implausible. Not to mention terribly offensive to any females in the audience.
Betty Thomas takes the half-baked ideas that the script offers and offers a ham-handed approach to whole film. Her style of direction is nigh lethargic, and her struggle in understanding the social underpinnings of high school campuses is obvious. In the end, though, the spunky performances by the girls and a fast-paced narrative save the day.
Truly, this is not a terrible film by any counts, but is also not very interesting, funny, or any of those things. It's just another American high school comedy, and it's not such a bad time at the movies, after all. You'll only wish there was something more substantial for your buck. If you are the intended audience, though, do give it a look-see. It is far less crass or contemptuous than a lot of stuff you have watched recently.