In the years since John Hughes elevated high school to a respectable movie genre, a small but thriving subgenre has emerged, that of the hard-edged teen satire. Best exemplified by Heathers and Mean Girls, such films invariably exposed the harsh and unforgiving caste system of high school in a way that horny-minded teen exploitation flicks never did.
John Tucker Must Die is a Xerox of a Xerox of a hard-edged teen satire. What a lost opportunity. Its ostensible storyline, dealing with high school cliques and the lies that kids tell to get laid, is ripe for satire. Even so, director Betty Thomas and screenwriter Jeff Lowell offer a limp and uninspired comedy -- cruelty as imagined by the Snuggles bear.
As the titular character, Jesse Metcalfe (the heartthrob teen from "Desperate Housewives") is a major player, a rich kid who is captain of the basketball team and the school's reigning stud. And just to prove it, John busies himself juggling three hotties: head cheerleader Heather (Ashanti), overachieving honor society president Carrie (Arielle Kebbel) and animal-loving vegan Beth (Sophia Bush). If such descriptions strike you as cheapo stereotypes, rest easy; the movie barely bothers to even cultivate that much characterization. I mean, hell, the filmmakers even have Beth pipe up with "peace and love!" when trying to break up a fight.
Complications ensue when the three learn that smooth-talking John Tucker has been three-timing them all. Determined to enact their revenge, the trio enlists the help of nice girl Kate Spencer (Brittany Snow), who happens to be standing nearby when the girls discover they've been cheated. Why do they need Kate for their plan? Well, she has a special knowledge of jerky guys, see, because her sexy mom (Jenny McCarthy) is constantly hooking up with John Tucker's kind. Oh, screw it -- they enlist Kate's help because the script made them.
After some attempts to humiliate John backfire, the girls get the bright idea of making Kate a super-sexy cheerleader -- a rather easy task, considering Brittany Snow is no slouch in the looks department -- who will capture John's heart and break it in two. Since Kate has grappled with the hell of unpopularity, she dutifully obliges. Guess who starts to turn into someone she's not? Guess what stud falls for the bait? Guess who's coming to dinner? Wait, sorry – different movie altogether. And just in case this doesn't sound predictable enough, fear not; in the midst of the girls' tortured ruse, Kate meets and develops a friendship with John's eclectic but lovable brother, Scott (Penn Badgley).
Incidentally, Kate and Scott meet in chemistry class -- an ironic choice considering no two actors in the movie appear to elicit any chemistry. John Tucker Must Die features enough eye candy to satisfy hormone-addled boys and girls from here to the mall, but this gorgeous cast offers nothing but pretty faces. What can you say when Jenny McCarthy has the most dramatic heft of anyone on screen?
Clichés abound without much attempt to even gussy them up; perhaps it's time for a movie moratorium on scenes in which heartbroken gals drown their sorrows in chocolate. Betty Thomas (Private Parts, The Brady Bunch Movie) is not known for making art, but she is typically a dependable filmmaker. Here, however, one would be hard-pressed to identify John Tucker Must Die as a comedy if it didn't have bright lighting, dumb characters and tired execution of some awfully hackneyed slapstick.
Audiences can view John Tucker Must Die in either 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen or in full-frame 1.33:1. Neither one improves the content, but the picture quality itself is clean, sharp and boasting vivid colors.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is crisp and clear, for whatever that's worth. Spanish and French audio is available in 2.0 Dolby Surround. Subtitles are available in English and Spanish.
A commentary track by Betty Thomas and editor Mark Friedman reveals a nice, chummy rapport between them. Fortunately, neither one seems to be under the delusion that they made a particularly good movie.
Two deleted scenes feature optional commentary by the director. Taken together, they run slightly past one minute. To her credit, Thomas concedes that when it comes to deleted scenes, there's usually good reason they were abandoned on the cutting-room floor.
Other disposable extras are On the Rebound (1:58), which goofs with Metcalfe shooting hoops; the John Tucker Must Die Dating Quiz (2:43), which is less entertaining than it sounds; and a live performance by People in Planes of "Instantly Gratified" (3:39). Also included are a theatrical trailer and a soundtrack promo spot.
Rent or buy Heathers or Mean Girls instead.