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Friday, July 30, 2010
Meat is murder, as the undead strike back
"Jennifer's Body" is pretty straightforward in its intentions: mix this season's hot teen genre, the vampire flick, with that old standby the high-school movie. Cast smoking hot Megan Fox as the bitchy bodacious queen bee, Amanda Seyfried as her nerdy best friend, and throw in some snarky teen-speak by screenwriter Diablo Cody ("Juno"). There's your movie, no?
Well, maybe. Let's start with Fox, an actress of great beauty and indeterminate talent (who at least has had the good sense to bail on Michael Bay after two "Transformers" paychecks): She's cast here as Jennifer, a rapacious piece of high-school jailbait deployed in low-riding jeans and cheerleader outfits. Jennifer's the type of girl who will grab the breasts of her mousy friend Needy (Seyfried) and tell her: "These are like smart bombs. You point 'em in the right direction and shake 'em, and things get real."
Clearly, Jennifer is the ultimate nikushoku-onna (carnivorous woman) even before she gets sacrificed in a satanic ritual by an eyeliner-wearing indie band, which turns her into an actual flesh-eating demon, something her friends are surprisingly slow to grasp. When Needy starts to have disturbing hallucinations about Jennifer, though, she realizes that her own boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons), may be in danger.
All this leads up to — what else? — a prom-night bloodbath that won't exactly unhorse "Carrie" any time soon. While Fox has fun with her succubus role — and she certainly looks the part, boasting a figure that seems to have been designed by a committee of perverts — Cody's dialogue is becoming less clever and more reliant on tampon and PMS jokes with each film.
Director Karyn Kusama deploys all the old tricks from "The Exorcist" — with Fox hovering above a bed, vomiting bile, etc. — to precious little effect. The film is neither witty enough nor scary enough to satisfy either way, and winds up being merely a potty-mouthed crossbreed of "Species" with "Mean Girls." While the film's story has that indie band making a deal with the devil in exchange for success, the real sell-out on display here is by Kusama, who after displaying some originality with the endearingly indie "Girlfight" in 2000 has gone generically Hollywood in a big way. (Also see 2005's "Aeon Flux.")
A somewhat better mix of dark humor and gore can be found in "Zombieland," which ranks somewhere below "Shaun of the Dead" and above "Fido" in the zom-com department. Director Ruben Fleischer's flick is largely concerned with the myriad slapstick ways to take out the undead — golf club, banjo, amusement park ride, and the Monty Python-esque piano dropped on head — but its colorful casting goes a long way to making this one watchable.
Set in a near-future United States where a mutant strain of mad cow disease has turned most of the population into flesh-eating freaks, cautious, dweeby loner Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) has managed to stay alive by always following his list of rules. With advice like "Check the Back Seat" or "Double-Tap" (i.e., two shots to the head), his directives will seem eminently sensible to anyone who's ever watched a George A. Romero flick. He meets up with the near-psychotic Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), a redneck bad-ass obsessed with guns, killing zombies and finding himself some Twinkies.
On the road, the duo encounter a pair of grifter girls, Little Rock and Wichita (Abigail Breslin and Emma Stone), who are on their way to Pacific Playground, a West Coast amusement park where they've heard there are no zombies. Good luck with that one, think the guys, but the four get used to having some company and make it as far as Hollywood together, where they camp out in a celebrity mansion.
Eisenberg essentially reprises his nervous, motor-mouthed virgin persona from "Adventureland" here — and for those who missed that film when it went straight to DVD in Japan, check it out: It's one of the best American films of the decade — but it plays well off the cartoon machismo of Harrelson, who's back in "Natural Born Killers" mode, with a gleam in his eyes that may not be unconnected to his mid-shoot arrest for possession of marijuana.
Stone (from "Superbad") is pretty much your standard issue tough- talking, gun-totin' fan-boy fantasy, unmistakably destined to be rescued by the dweeb in the end. (Which may be why Megan Fox turned down the role, having already had enough of that with Shia LaBeouf.) Fourteen-year-old Breslin ("Little Miss Sunshine") steals the show with some sharp back-and-forth with Harrelson.
"Zombieland" loses some steam in the middle, with a celebrity cameo that's essentially one joke stretched out to about 10 minutes, and at no point is the film ever scary or suspenseful. Still, it's hard not to like a movie that celebrates the silver lining of the Apocalypse: "No more Facebook updates."