Is Jennifer’s Body hot or is it not? Well, in either case, it’s certainly lifeless.
A mélange of genres, Jennifer’s Body tries to offer a little something for everybody, but the magnitude to which it sucks has nothing to do with the fact that it’s really just a vampire movie.
The guts of the story revolve around high school hottie Jennifer (Megan Fox, Transformers), living in a Podunk town called Devil’s Kettle. For some inexplicable reason, she’s infatuated with a “big city” guyliner band called Low Shoulder; she scoped them out on MySpace (the people of Devil’s Kettle haven’t gotten wind yet that MySpace is passé).
So, anyway, Low Shoulder’s dive bar venue burns to the ground early in the band’s set. Amid the chaos, the lead singer latches on to Jennifer’s earlier advances and, somehow assuming she’s still a virgin by virtue of her small town residence, invites her into the band’s van. Turns out, they’re Satanist wannabes and their intent is to sacrifice her to the devil so they can attain the same lofty success as Maroon 5. And they do it with a Bowie knife.
That’s cute, as far as vampire movies go.
But Jennifer’s not a virgin, so she suffers eternal damnation, roaming the high school’s hallways, scoping out the next boy to entice with her vixen charms before taking them for a good ol’ fashioned suck ‘n’ gut.
Jennifer’s Body was written by Diablo Cody, a writer whose career took a meteoric rise to Oscar winner with her debut screenplay, Juno. But clearly this is her sophomore slump; no wonder Jason Reitman, who directed Juno, decided to stick strictly to producer chores and let Karyn Kusama (Aeon Flux) take the helm.
Jennifer’s Body features the same wordplay that endeared Juno to so many, no matter how implausible some of the dialogue was. Let’s keep it real, Diablo. A Soupy Sales reference from a contemporary teenager? Really?
While no mention of Soupy is made in this escapade, there’s something tiresome about the snarky wordplay, perhaps because it seems even more forced and perhaps because the dialogue is a thin cover for what otherwise is a tone-deaf piece of storytelling.
Sure, it’s a slasher flick alright: It’s a horror-slash-sex-comedy-slash-drama-slash-coming-of-age movie. But there’s not a jolt or shock to be had; there are merely a few chuckles; and the drama is an uncomfortable dust up between serious social commentary and the snide, nasty responses one expects to find on any number of moderator-free online discussion boards.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in all this is the movie’s very weird attempt at that social commentary.
After the disaster at the dive bar, in which numerous high school students and other locals died, a post-Columbine-like feel enters the picture. There are the makeshift memorials of teddy bears and notes, the school-wide sense of unity, and teachers making emotional addresses to the students.
But in this case the teacher is Spider-Man’s J.K. Simmons and he’s virtually unrecognizable as a curly-haired, hook-handed teacher. The dramatic shift is underpinned by his goofy cameo and it doesn’t work. Is the satire of the tragedy or the community response to the tragedy or the media coverage of the tragedy?
And the story goes further down this bizarre path, with Low Shoulder returning to Devil’s Kettle to perform at the school’s spring dance. They’re now superstars following national coverage of totally bogus stories about their heroism rescuing patrons at the bar. Their first hit single, Through the Trees, is a non-stop fixture on all the radio stations and figures into the theme of the dance.
Something ain’t right with Cody’s two-faced tone. Does this stripper-turned-writer really have a heart? Or did she, too, sacrifice herself to the devil for fame and this is her payback? There’s some kind of statement going on here, but it’s lost in Cody’s own pursuit of cleverness.
Aside from the attention the movie is sure to get given Cody’s prematurely illustrious pedigree, the other “it factor is the film’s star, Megan Fox. In recent months, she’s endured a public tiff with her Transformers director, Michael Bay. He has blatantly stated he didn’t hire her for her acting abilities.
Well, the girl deserves some credit. For the most part, Fox does an adequate job of pulling off the role when she isn’t pulling off her clothes (calm down; there’s no nudity here). Given the horrific circumstances of her post-sacrificial existence, Fox earns kudos for letting herself “go ugly” when she gets drained and in need of more human flesh. It’s hard to think of another actress that would’ve done much more with the material.
And the movie’s promotional materials are smart enough to capitalize more on Megan Fox’s sex appeal than Diablo Cody’s word fetish. But that’s also where the movie ultimately falls apart. Gunning for a teenage crowd eager to be titillated, they’ll be disappointed to hear the “R” rating is strictly for blood, foul language and sex talk.
In that respect, Jennifer’s Body winds up feeling like nothing more than a guilty pleasure wannabe. All talk. No bite.