'Jennifer's Body'

While not exactly lifeless, "Jennifer's Body" sure could be fresher.

While not exactly lifeless, “Jennifer’s Body” sure could be fresher. Even with Megan Fox ideally cast as a sharp-fanged succubus with a lusty appetite for young male (and sometimes female) flesh, this high school horror romp tackles its bad-girl-gone-really-bad premise with eye-rolling obviousness and, fatally, a near-total absence of real scares. Fox Atomic item will stir interest as a post-“Juno” outing for scribe Diablo Cody, whose whippersnapper sensibility can be heard in the occasional snatches of self-consciously clever dialogue. But even auds primed to see guts and other exposed body parts will be disappointed by a “Body” less bawdy than advertised.

At the very least, Fox (the actress, not the studio), best known for her pinup-worthy turns in the “Transformers” movies, must be grateful for a project that requires her to do more than interact suggestively with the hood of a Camaro. Not that the role of a snotty teenage vamp reps a huge stretch: Jennifer (Fox) teases and seduces every guy within flirting distance, her sexual over-confidence masking a desperate desire to escape her tiny hometown, the unpromisingly named Devil’s Kettle.

Nervously overseeing Jennifer’s behavior is her nicer, smarter best friend, Needy (Amanda Seyfried, wearing glasses so as to look plain by comparison). “Sandbox love never dies,” Needy muses early on, adding some latent Sapphic undertones to the pic’s unholy hormonal stew, even though she has a cute, attentive b.f. (Johnny Simmons). But after the girls narrowly escape a freak fire that destroys a local tavern one night, Needy can only watch helplessly as Jennifer, possibly high on smoke fumes, gets into a van with a band of wannabe rockers whose intentions seem rather less than pure.

Hours later, Jennifer turns up at Needy’s house, dripping blood, vomiting black tar and behaving in a generally unpleasant manner. But before you can say “Drag Me to Hell,” she’s back at school the next day, looking as healthy and voluptuous as ever — though she has a weirdly callous attitude toward the town’s rapidly mounting death toll, as one male classmate after another is found brutally dismembered.

Even this summary suggests more of a mystery than the pic actually has stashed beneath its creaky floorboards. In her latest femme-driven actioner (albeit one quite different from either her promising indie “Girlfight” or her sci-fi campfest “Aeon Flux”), helmer Karyn Kusama shows little interest in mounting suspense, instead resorting to a tired arsenal of shock cuts, jolting sound design and levitation effects. Auds have probably endured Ouija board sessions scarier than the flashback revealing the precise nature of Jennifer’s demonic condition.

In “Juno,” Cody succeeded in bringing her cheeky high spirits to bear on the usually sober topic of teen pregnancy; surprising, then, that she’s unable to work the same magic with a much more outlandish story. Cody also exec produced “Jennifer’s Body,” and it certainly bears her arch comic signature, from its satirical jabs at indie-rock poseurs (who, per the script, are basically Satan’s henchmen) to the way her characters tend to sound more like hyperarticulate pop-culture savants than recognizable adolescents. Fox gets plenty of juicy, double-entendre-laden dialogue with which to flaunt her carnal knowledge, though, sorry to disappoint, the R rating is more due to the pic’s gore quotient than its coy almost-nudity.

Seyfried’s appealing, grounded presence here may bring to mind her ditzy turn in “Mean Girls,” and indeed, the current film’s not-very-well-buried subtext is that it’s a mean-girl tale taken to supernatural yet entirely logical extremes; the bitch trying to steal your boyfriend might just as well be evil enough to steal your soul. Fox sinks her teeth into the role with admirably bloodthirsty abandon, yet as “Jennifer’s Body” approaches its overwrought climax, it’s hard not to think that, as a match for her talents, the Camaro may have been the superior vehicle.

“Juno” alums include producers Mason Novick and Daniel Dubiecki; director Jason Reitman, who gets a producing credit here; and thesps Valerie Tian and J.K. Simmons, sporting an Irish accent and making the most of his brief scenes as a one-handed schoolteacher.

Jennifer's Body

Production

A 20th Century Fox release of a Fox Atomic presentation of a Dubiecki/Novick/Reitman production, in association with Dune Entertainment. Produced by Mason Novick, Daniel Dubiecki, Jason Reitman. Executive producer, Diablo Cody. Co-producer, Brad Van Arragon. Directed by Karyn Kusama. Screenplay, Diablo Cody.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color prints, Panavision widescreen), M. David Mullen; editor, Plummy Tucker; music, Theodore Shapiro, Steven Barton; music supervisor, Randall Poster; production designer, Arv Greywal; art director, Paolo G. Venturi; set designer, Douglas Girling; set decorator, Joanne LeBlanc; costume designer, Katio Stano; sound (Dolby/DTS), Rob Young; supervising sound editors, Perry Robertson, Scott Sanders, Andrew DeCristofaro; supervising sound designers, Sanders, Ann Scibelli; re-recording mixers, Joe Barnett, Rick Ash, Todd Beckett, J. Stanley Johnston; visual effects supervisor, Erik Nordby; visual effects, Technicolor Creative Services Vancouver; stunt coordinators, Scott Ateah, Ed Anders; assistant director, Jason A. Blumenfeld; second unit director, Daniel Dubiecki; second unit camera, Karl Herrman; casting, Mindy Marin. Reviewed at AMC Yonge & Dundas 24, Toronto, Sept. 9, 2009. (In Toronto Film Festival -- Midnight Madness.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Jennifer - Megan Fox Needy - Amanda Seyfried Chip - Johnny Simmons Mr. Wroblewski - J.K. Simmons Needy's Mom - Amy Sedaris Nikolai - Adam Brody
With: Kyle Gallner, Chris Pratt, Cynthia Stevenson, Valerie Tian.

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