Jesse McCarthy, Arielle Kebbel, Ashanti, Sophia Bush, Brittany Snow
20th Century Fox
There are certain films that just plain look bad.
You can sit there, watch the trailer and feel this intense guttural groan forming inside you from the depths of your being.
These films, seemingly pre-destined to completely suck, are occasionally lucky enough to reach the level of "so bad it's good." More often than not, however, these films simply spend one weekend hitting their target demographic than quickly fade forever into video oblivion.
"John Tucker Must Die" is such a film.
Beyond a reasonably intriguing title, "John Tucker Must Die" has as its only attractive feature the fact that it is a step up from Jenny McCarthy's last film, the Razzie-nominated "Dirty Love."
In fact, the generosity of my D+ can be mostly attributed to my completely unexplainable fondness for McCarthy and my utter sense of relief that this film, while bland and pointless, is nowhere near as repulsive as the mind-bogglingly inept "Dirty Love."
Is that a compliment?
Directed by Betty Thomas ("The Brady Bunch Movie","Private Parts" and other bland comedies), "John Tucker Must Die" disguises itself as a bold, darkly comic film that is neither bold nor particularly comedic. Screenwriter Jeff Lowell, whose writing background prior to this film consisted primarily of TV shows such as "The George Carlin Show" and "The Drew Carey Show," plays it remarkably safe here and the end result is a film that promises "John Tucker Must Die," but delivers "John Tucker Gets Embarrassed, Kinda, Sorta, Maybe."
Squarely aimed at the teen girl demographic, "John Tucker Must Die" offers enough histrionic teen moments to ensure a modest opening weekend, however, even the teen celebrities in the cast won't be able to deliver much beyond a decent life on DVD.
The film centers around three "teen" girls (played by Arielle Kebbel, Ashanti and Sophia Bush respectively) who discover that their dreamboat boyfriends (Jesse Metcalfe) are, in fact, the same guy. The girls hook up with Kate, the new girl in school (Brittany Snow), who moves from town to town because her mother (Jenny McCarthy) keeps dating guys just like this very one. The girls enlist Kate to humiliate him (GET IT? "DIE of Embarrassment"...Groan).
There are multiple problems with "John Tucker Must Die," ranging from a cast that in no way looks like they are in their teens. Ashanti, in fact, is 27...did someone really look at her and think "Hey, she'd make a great high school cheerleader in this film?" Sometimes, the great, overpaid minds of Hollywood just leave me bewildered.
Other problems with "John Tucker Must Die" include a script that never takes any chances. Scenes in the trailer that seem to be leading to a comic wonderland...well, they're in fact leading to nothing. They pretty much exist as you see them in the trailer, including the "hot" lesbian kissing scene at the drive-in.
It's difficult to ascertain just whose problem the script really is...often, it's easy to blame the writer himself. However, in "John Tucker Must Die" it almost seems like there are glimpses of a dark, biting film in several of the film's scenes. Yet, just when it feels like the film is getting ready to make that giant leap into "Heathers" type humor Thomas seems to pull the reigns back. Thomas did very much the same thing while directing "Private Parts," a book by Howard Stern that became a mildly amusing but amazingly diluted film. Therefore, it's not unreasonable to conclude that the problem may very well lie more with Thomas's directing than with Lowell's promising script.
In Thomas's defense, pulling back may have been the wisest choice considering the limited acting range of her young cast. In fact, only McCarthy shows any real life at all in the film with her optimistic, energetic performance as the mis-directed mom. The film plays with such a lack of authenticity that I started to wonder if maybe I was watching "Bring It On...With A Vengeance."
Cinematographer Anthony Richmond has been brilliant at times throughout his career, including "Bastard Out of Carolina," "Let it Be" and other classics. However, he's also had those films where you want to just look him in the face and go "Anthony, my friend, if you need money that badly just ask for a loan...don't demean yourself like this." His recent efforts have included the horrid "Dumb and Dumberer" and "The Sweetest Thing."
We'll chalk up "John Tucker Must Die" as another miss and just hope for better things with his upcoming "Employee of the Month." Too much of this film is photographed with close-up shots, head shots and shots that simply seem out of balance. Kudos, however, are offered to a lively soundtrack including tunes by Nada Surf and Josh Kelly.
"John Tucker Must Die" may very well appeal to those young, teen girls who can identify with its "been screwed over by a guy" message, however, even the ending screws up this simple theme by coming out just a touch more in favor of Metcalfe's character. Even teen girls, I fear, will find themselves disappointed with the film's resolution and, ultimately, "John Tucker Must Die" may end up only appealing to diehard fans of its young cast members.
"John Tucker Must Die," but the entire cast should feel humiliated for appearing in this predictable, boring and uneven flick. The only one who's getting screwed over in this film is the audience.
|© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic
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Richard Propes, The Independent Critic