The feisty teen revenge comedy "John Tucker Must Die" follows the "Heathers" and "Mean Girls" mold of teaming an impressionable heroine with a trio of imperious high school babes; this time, however, they're united in their mission to eradicate not mean girls, but a boy who's broken one heart too many.
Less bloodthirsty than its title would suggest, the feisty teen revenge comedy “John Tucker Must Die” follows the “Heathers” and “Mean Girls” mold of teaming an impressionable heroine with a trio of imperious high school babes; this time, however, they’re united in their mission to eradicate not mean girls, but a boy who’s broken one heart too many. Predictable developments are more or less redeemed by spirited execution and the pleasures of an able, good-looking cast — which means Fox stands a fair chance of turning “Must Die” into must-see teen fare.
After briefly introducing herself by way of self-deprecating voiceover, lovely but socially inept teenager Kate (Brittany Snow) quickly turns the story over to its rightful subject, John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe), captain of the basketball team and the most popular stud on campus.
As Kate finds out through her waitressing job, John is secretly dating three girls at once: hot-tempered head cheerleader Heather (pop/R&B singer Ashanti); extracurricular overachiever and multimedia whiz Carrie (Arielle Kebbel); and bodacious vegan Beth (Sophia Bush).
It’s not long before the truth comes out, and after a nicely staged three-way catfight in which Kate becomes unfortunately entangled, the four girls band together to punish John for his lady-killing ways. Their initial stabs at tarnishing his image — spiking his muscle supplements with estrogen, for instance — are conceived along sitcomish lines, but play out amusingly enough.
John, ever the rebounder, has an uncanny ability to turn even his setbacks into suave victories. And when he dumps Heather, Carrie and Beth in rapid succession (in a sharply cut sequence that plays up the girls’ interchangeability), they decide to exact the ultimate revenge by setting him up with naive, inexperienced Kate — easy enough, once she joins the cheer squad — and then have her break his heart.
What follows is essentially a very frothy youthful update of “Les liaisons dangereuses,” with the added twist that both girl and guy are scamming each other. Kate’s friends initiate her in the alien rituals of high school courtship, while John nearly exhausts his supply of empty sweet talk trying to score with this beguilingly hard-to-get newcomer.
Screenplay is the first feature-length effort from TV scribe Jeff Lowell (“Spin City”), and while it boasts a confident structure and quite a few saucy one-liners, several of the key set-pieces — one of which has John tricked into wearing female undies — feel recycled from old “Friends” episodes. Nor does the pic quite know what to do with John’s sensitive younger brother Scott (Penn Badgley), or Kate’s mom Lori (Jenny McCarthy), whose constantly revolving door of boyfriends is meant to provide her daughter with an emotional history.
Helmer Betty Thomas (“Private Parts,” “The Brady Bunch Movie”) has a snappy, engaging style and an occasional weakness for belaboring jokes. But to her credit, she doesn’t even try to pass off this glossy, enjoyable comic fantasy as a credible slice of high school life, and she casts a sympathetic net around all her characters, mainly by letting their charisma speak for itself.
Snow, whose adorable blend of innocence and spunk suggests a less worldly Olsen twin, makes Kate easy to root for as a stuttering wallflower who grows in naughty confidence. As her partners in crime, Ashanti, Kebbel and Bush tear into their parts with bitchy enthusiasm, though their snippy backbiting is at times overdirected.
Metcalfe, last seen as Eva Longoria’s botanical boy-toy on “Desperate Housewives,” could hardly be more ideally cast as a smooth operator who, even at his most caddish, is almost too charming to loathe. When someone warns him that Kate isn’t his type, and he retorts, “Girl is my type,” one is hard-pressed to disagree.
Musical selections, supervised by Alexandra Patsavas, strike mostly obvious notes, although Rick Nielsen’s “I Want You to Want Me” is thoughtfully integrated into the action.