Diablo Cody is the burlesque Sam Mendes of movie scripting. She's an award winning scribe who gets more head scratches than accolades for her big screen sentiments. Many will argue that she did not deserve the Academy Award for her trippy teen comedy Juno, while some will sight director Jason Reitman and actress Ellen Page for taking said sheep dip and making it into something celebrated. Whatever the case, like most media-hyped attractions, Ms. Cody faced the daunting task of crafting a follow-up, something that would avoid the notorious "sophomore slump" while proving that she definitely deserved that little gold man on her leopard print office bookshelf. Well, Jennifer's Body is not the most successful attempt at thwarting/proving either proposition, truth be told. It has some amazing moments. It also has some impenetrable flaws that will keep most moviewatchers from embracing - or even enjoying - the experience.
High school BFFs Needy and Jennifer live in a gloomy small town with the sinister name of Devil's Kettle (it's a weird local waterfall). After a run-in with a shady rock band, and a freak nightclub fire, the former thinks she's been left friendless. But the lusty "It" girl that every guy in school wants to...um...chat up...returns, bloody, puking black stuff, and bearing bad news. Seems she's been turned into some manner of devil, a blood thirsty monster that needs a monthly infusion of vein juice to keep humming. After running through most of the usual testosterone suspects at her clique-tastic high school, Jennifer decides to take aim at Needy's boy toy Chip. Naturally, this gets our hormonally charged heroine up in...arms. She decides to destroy the beast once and for all, though it may cost her her life...or even worse, her social status among the students.
There are two major issues you will have to overcome - or at least learn to deal with - if you are going to get any enjoyment out of Jennifer's Body. The first, and most obvious, is Diablo Cody's "too cool for 90210 school" jargoneeze. As a matter of fact, one imagines that the exotic dancer turned Oscar owner has an 'imaginary lingo' application on her IPhone, running to it often as it randomly generates post-millennial cute speak like "salty" (beautiful), "Jell-O" (jealous, to which you can add "lime green" for added emphasis), and "smart bombs" (breasts.). If you thought Juno was too whack for your Faygo homeslice alpha-bits, you'll be freaktarded over this particular massacre of the Queen's chosen palaver. At least Jennifer's Body doesn't bury its need to be uber-hipster sweet in a saggy serio-comic storyline about underage parental responsibility and black market fetus Craigslisting. No, Ms. Cody is going full bore genre gonzo here, and the results are rather lame. Instead of fronting her Evil Dead T-shirt proudly, she goes all Ghoulies on us. (Okay, enough with the groovy gibberish...).
The second element sits squarely on the shoulders of director Karyn Kusama. Still believing she can ride the success of Girlfight (let's not talk about her failed adaption of the MTV feminist anime tract Æon Flux), she is given the reigns of a wannabe '80s fright flick homage and then let's herself get lost in Cody's nonstop barrage of trendiness. You can literally see the movie grow lazy and lax right before your eyes. One moment, the dialogue and dread are bouncing around like a major Monster Squad wannabe, the next, everyone's taken an unqualified cinematic chill pill. Things should bubble and snap. Instead, we get unenergetic sequences without significant shock value or suspense. Granted, we really aren't supposed to watching the majority of this movie through face fingers. Most horror comedies are a clever combination of both, neither overdosing on the fear or the funny business. But Jennifer's Body believes its own post-AMPAS hype, and as a result, flummoxes what could have been a semi-brilliant homage to hundred of direct to video favorites.
Still, this is a salvageable experience, mostly because of the performances and the unusualness of the inherent quirk. Amanda Seyfried, last seen stinking up the Greek Isles in Mamma Mia! , is actually very good as Needy, the nerd who becomes an ersatz 'Buffy the Sexy Bad Girl Turned Demon Succubus Slayer'. Though she's too pretty to be completely geeky, she definitely puts on a good act. Similarly, Megan Fox shows surprising and significant range (not that the Transformers films offer much in the way of Shakespearean histrionics). While she's as put together and plastic as any overhype honey can be, she still garners our sympathies - at least for a while. And then there is our diabolical Ms. Cody. While it's clear she can't write "real" dialogue, she does find a way to make her pure poser shtick work. Sure, the whole Satanic rock band subplot stinks, and Heathers did a lot of this a lot better back in 1988, but Jennifer's Body is not the brazen bomb everyone says it is. Does it get in its own way and almost destroy the entertainment experience. Absolutely. Can you still find a good time somewhere within the drowse? Certainly.
Offering both the original theatrical and updated (and superior) director's cut of the film, the DVD of Jennifer's Body does this movie proud. Sure, there are still moments when some of the CG work is obvious (that nighttime exterior shot of the abandoned swimming pool building just NEVER looks right) and Kusama clearly had to darken certain scenes to keep the MPAA happy, but overall, the image is bright, colorful, and detailed. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer does a terrific job of encapsulating the many movie macabre references as well as expertly dealing with the director's frequently oddball flourishes. All in all, either version looks amazing.
Sonically, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is flawless. The use of music in the movie really shines on the multichannel presentation, and the dialogue is always up front and crystal clear. There is even some nice directional use of the side speakers and an aura of fear and dread, thanks to some ambient back channel noises. Also available in a 2.0 Spanish and French version, the aural elements here are outstanding.
The best part of the DVD release of Jennifer's Body (the Blu-ray is supposedly packed with even more added content) is a chance to see Kusama's "Unrated" cut of the film. No, it is not bloodier or sexier. Remember, when a studio releases a different version of the movie sans MPAA approval, it needs to be labeled in such a manner, even if the only change is a single line of dialogue. In this case, the director rearranges things (we start off in the asylum, not at Jennifer's house) and there are other telling tweaks here and there. For this critic's money, the "Unrated" version is a much better movie - still meandering and a little lost toward the end of the second act, but a much more complete creation.
There are commentaries on both options - Kusmana and Cody on the theatrical cut, the director alone on the revamp - but be aware of one fact: the "Unrated" take only deals with the changes, not the entire film. That means the movie jumps ahead often so Kusmana can discuss the differences between the two. The sole remaining bonus feature on the standard digital release is a collection of trailers. Again, the Blu-ray supposedly will offer a lot more.
As someone who frequently refers to Megan Fox and Megan "Lox", this critic was ready to ream Jennifer's Body up one side of the funky film criticism game and down the other. Instead, after experiencing the new "Unrated" version, as well as settling in with the movie for a second time, there is a lot to like here. In fact, it would now qualify as a near miss instead of an abject failure. Don't be misguided - this is still not the lustful fright flick the advertising promised, and at least one of our leads is still light years away from a sustainable career in major motion pictures (Lifetime films and CW nighttime soaps...that's another story). Still, Jennifer's Body earns a reluctant Recommended, if only because of the promise it shows, and the silly speak pleasures that can be derived from Diablo Cody's glorified gobbledygook. Lower your expectations, place your love of linguistic on the back burner, and enjoy the attempt. It's not great, but it's also not as godawful as some would have you believe.
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