Retro Review: JENNIFER’S BODY (2009){0}

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, in about 0.6 seconds: The horror / comedy mixture is a mean and difficult beast to tame. I do not envy the screenwriter, director, and actors who must, for at least 100 minutes, waver back and forth between A) shocks, scares, and splatter, and B) jokes, chuckles, and giggles. Oh sure, you’ll always find a few random nuggets of quality on one side of the fence or the other, but the films that can balance atop the fence are fairly few and far-between. Aside from the widely-adored Shaun of the Dead, we look to flicks like GremlinsTremorsEvil Dead 2An American Werewolf in LondonSlitherThe HowlingReturn of the Living Dead, and a small handful of others.

And then we have curious failures like Jennifer’s Body, which is interesting for all sorts of reasons. The good news is that it’s (ostensibly) from a horror fan, a popular screenwriter who recently won an Academy Award. I say that throws a cool little dash of credibility to the horror genre. After Juno, the quick-witted and colorful Diablo Cody could have gone in a variety of directions, and she chose a horror flick. For that (and for the fact that I adore Juno) I tip my hat to Ms. Cody.

And that’s why I wish I had something nicer to say about Jennifer’s Body. It’s certainly got its strong points: Cody delivers a small handful of amusing quips, slang-isms, and one-liners; the painfully pretty Amanda Seyfried is (as usual) a sweet and affable onscreen presence; the production design and cinematography are pretty much top-notch…

…but that’s where I sort of dry up. Ultimately Jennifer’s Body feels like nothing more than a creaky old screenplay that Cody had lying in a drawer, and she punched it up for a project-hungry producer, who gave it to a woefully unprepared director, and they anchored it to a “flavor of the month” hottie who might not be the world’s greatest actress, but boy is she sexy.

The gal I’m referring to, the Jennifer of Jennifer’s Body, is of course Megan Fox, the sultry young gal who ran through two Transformers flicks while instantly becoming every pre-teen boys fondest wish. And I’m certainly not immune to cheesecake: Ms. Fox is very attractive indeed, and one day I’m sure she’ll be able to deliver at least one line reading that doesn’t sound like a late-night promo for a 1-900 Lonely Girl Hotline.

Fine, so the lead actress isn’t exactly Meryl Streep. That’s hardly reason enough to dislike a new horror flick. (If it were, I’d probably hate horror flicks.) The integral problem with Jennifer’s Body is that of tone. Or lack thereof. And by that I mean this: It’s a horror / comedy mixture that’s not really scary and even less funny. The alleged comedy of the piece — that a sexy young teenager is gang-groped by a Satanic rock band, thereby transforming her into a young-man-eating succubus — is lost on me, and the stuff that’s supposed to be creepy is perpetually undermined by Cody’s self-aware and snark-laden dialog. (Nothing pulls you out of a potentially creepy moment than the third successive joke about feminine hygiene products.)

As Jennifer’s doe-eyed best friend “Needy” (really, Diablo? NEEDY?), Ms. Seyfried is, amazingly, asked to play the role of “frumpy four eyes,” despite the fact that she’s clearly some sort of beauty queen. This bit was mocked in Not Another Teen Movie, for cryin’ out loud, but it’s trotted out here with (weirdly enough) no sense of irony whatsoever. The plot wanders around a lot, with Jennifer killing some horny boys while Needy (sigh) deals with her disapproving boyfriend. Occasionally a go-nowhere subplot involving the rock bands pops up. Amidst the forced banter and the unexciting kill scenes you’ll find a few weird moments in which parents lament dead children by weeping uncontrollably. It’s as if Cody and director Karyn Kusama were going for Heathers meets Species, but only in individual scenes. Either that or the flick had re-shoots, re-edits, and post-production problems galore, because Jennifer’s Body feels a lot like a 15-year-old girl who’s aimlessly channel surfing between Melrose PlaceBuffy the Vampire Slayer, and late-night Lifetime advertisements.