Saturday, March 6, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

I should begin by saying there isn't anything wrong with Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. But.

That's admittedly a strange way to begin a review, but Burton's version of the Lewis Carroll stories (equal parts remake and sequel) is admittedly a strange movie.

In this version, Alice (fresh face Mia Wasikowska) is 19, facing a less-than-exciting engagement and befuddled by recurring dreams of Wonderland in all its smiling-cat glory. After ditching her would-be fiance for a white rabbit (Michael Sheen, famous as David Frost in Frost/Nixon) in a waistcoat, Alice falls down the rabbit hole, and the classic hijinks ensue - tense confrontations with the decapitation-prone Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter, replete with a digitally enhanced cranium), a zany tea party with The Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp), and a duel with the monstrous Jabberwocky (voiced with gusto by Christopher Lee).

I began the review as I did because I want to make it clear that the movie is as fun and enjoyable as most anything with Tim Burton's name on it. I also wanted to make clear that my disappointment with the movie doesn't hinder its capacity to be enjoyed by filmgoers. Okay, that's complicated - how can a movie's main flaw not be a flaw at all? Let's unpack that.

Beginning with the good news - the cast is vivacious and delightful as always. Johnny Depp gets his name before the title of the movie, likely because of his star power; his quirky eccentricities and a heavy dose of pathos in his backstory contribute to a fresh spin on the character, distancing him from the stereotypical nutjob as fully as Depp inhabits the character (which, like all his roles, is a complete immersion). HBC jokes that she plays in all of Burton's films because she's his wife, but the incontrovertible truth is that she's at her best when she's playing a completely disjointed person like the Red Queen; her first scene (in which she interrogates several frogs-in-waiting about her missing cranberry tarts) sets the stage for a mentally unhinged portrait, and her repeated cries of "Off with his/her/their head!" will make any filmgoer giggle with glee. As the White Queen (Red's sister), Anne Hathaway is - in Alice's parlance - "curiouser and curiouser," because I'm still not sure what to make of her; Hathaway bounds about the screen with the angelic grace of a waltz for one, but there seems to be a bit of madness ready to slip out at inopportune moments. Certainly this is an all-star cast (yes, that's Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar, here named Absolem), but keep your eyes on scene-stealer Matt Lucas, who ably juggles the dual role of eggbodied twins Tweedledum & Tweedledee (or is it the other way around?).

Screenwriter Linda Woolverton does a clever job of weaving a new through-line into the classic story; it's not spoiling anything to say that Alice is called upon to battle the Jabberwocky and dethrone the Red Queen, but there's a slyness at play that puts a new relevance on familiar occurrences. The Cheshire Cat matters more in this version; no longer is he just a grinning feline evaporating in the trees, but he's now a turncoat seeking redemption at every turn; similarly, the Mad Hatter's not mad per se, but he's getting there. Hats off (pardon the pun) to Woolverton, who also turned Hamlet into The Lion King.

So there's nothing really wrong with the movie, but here comes the bad news. The bad news is that Burton could have done much better. Again, that isn't to say that the movie's bad or missteps in any places, but there's a certain feel to the movie that doesn't quite match the Tim Burton style (wildly imaginative and visually disorienting in a Rembrandt kind of way). Maybe it's his fidelity to the source material; though the film has a smart new story arc, I have the same complaint about this one that I did about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. That is, there are certain story beats that any adaptation simply must hit, and there's a fine line there between pulling it off and feeling unimaginative; Alice has its moments, but it often feels like we're moving from room to room on a predestined chocolate factory tour.

Similarly, I felt like Depp was holding back in a lot of places; his Mad Hatter could have been so much more. What we get isn't bad - the decision to speak in a Scottish accent whenever provoked to anger is new and different - but perhaps I've come to expect too much. It's classic Depp, but perhaps "classic Depp" is last year's style. The film is "Classic Burton," too, but it never quite pushes the limit of what I've come to expect from the director. I've always considered 2007's Sweeney Todd to be the movie Tim Burton had been gearing up for his entire life, so it's a tough act to follow in that respect.

I can't say that anyone did any wrong here. Perhaps Depp and Burton's creative juices are on hold after Sweeney Todd (which, no matter what one feels about the movie as a musical, has to be awarded a medal for ambition and enthusiastic execution). Perhaps Disney held the reins too tightly on Burton and Co. (a slapdash nod to the 1951 animated version feels like the kind of overt nod that Burton's usually more subtle about). Whatever the case, I remain pleased but disappointed (if one can feel those two emotions at once) with Alice in Wonderland and look forward to Burton's next pairing with Depp - an adaptation of the campy vampire soap Dark Shadows.

Alice in Wonderland has one of the strangest ratings of all time - "PG for fantasy action/violence involving scary images and situations, and for a smoking caterpillar." I mean, I guess that makes sense.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Zombieland (2009)

After Jennifer's Body (and after the last few posts retroactively updated the blog with reviews I'd written a while back), I needed a fresh movie to restore my faith in the cinema. It was with reservation that I slid Zombieland into my DVD player, but within moments my trepidation was assuaged.

You see, I love a zombie movie that doesn't take itself seriously - Shaun of the Dead is on my as-yet-unpublished "Best of the 2000s" list - and if the undead tongue is firmly in the decaying cheek, I'm right there. Zombieland is another entry in a long line of zombie movies with a sense of humor, and it's one of the better ones.

In an America populated primarily by zombies and where identities are subordinated to destinations (our protagonist is named Columbus, because that's where he's going), survival of the fittest is the order of the day, and the prize for those who make it is the promise of the last Twinkie on earth. Narrator Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg, who seems to be the B-list Michael Cera) meets up with Tallahassee (a fabulous Woody Harrelson), who's all about one-upsmanship and making zombie-killing an art while searching for that last Twinkie. The unlikely duo match wits several times with con artist sisters Wichita (Emma Stone) and Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) before a delightful showdown at the most bitingly contagious theme park this side of Disney World.

While I'm not a big fan of Eisenberg - Adventureland (also set, curiously, at an amusement park) left me cold and I'd much rather watch Michael Cera do the same act - Harrelson rarely lets me down, and his turn as Tallahassee is iconic for all the right reason, setting a new standard for infectiously fun zombie-killers in the same way that Zac Efron redefined teeny-bopper musicals. Stone is cute in a quirky kind of way, and she's entirely believable as a sneaky survivalist. Breslin's cute, too, like a less pretentious and more talented Dakota Fanning with more appeal to a broader audience. So the cast is a lot of fun.

(Note: I think the statute of limitations on spoilers has expired, but just in case... skip this paragraph if you don't want a pleasant mid-flick surprise spoiled.) The most fun, though, comes from an entirely unpredictable and extremely kitschy cameo appearance by Bill Murray, playing himself as one of the last remaining non-infected humans. Murray plays himself, but he does it with as much dry wit as in his most acclaimed roles (Groundhog Day and Ghostbusters, which gets a name check here). There's nothing un-funny about his five or so minutes in the middle of the movie, and the rest of the film almost feels like a letdown once he exits the stage.

The second half of the film has a different feel after the dynamically rip-roaring opening hour, but it's still a lot of fun. It's hard to believe that, in the forty or so years since George Romero made zombies cool, there are still creative ways to kill the undead (again). But how about garden shears? A car door? A piano? Zombieland has all that and more, especially the unforgettable "Double Tap" rule that must be seen to be fully appreciated.

The film is gratuitously violent, but its excessive nature is not purposeless, because the film is so ludiccrously over the top that the blood-and-guts effects have to be similarly beyond the pale. So while some fans might object to the slow-mo shot of a zombie vomiting blood over the opening credits, those of us who are in on the joke know that Zombieland is intentionally dialing the genre up to eleven. Watching Tallahassee do his thing - giggling maniacally and taunting the zombies as he goes - should be proof enough that the filmmakers are having as much fun as they'd like us to have.

It's a biting good time.

Zombieland is, no surprise, rated "R for horror violence/gore and language." The gore certainly isn't for the squeamish, but the language wouldn't make Joe Pesci blush.

Shutter Island (2010)

I’ve never actually gone crazy - at least, not clinically. But Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island might be the closest I’ve come to a brush with insanity.

Scorsese’s 21st film - the latest in a long and impeccably significant history - isn’t a typical filmic descent into madness. It’s more like being thrown into the deep end of a freezing cold swimming pool, equally disorienting and inescapably gripping.

After a months-long delay in the theatrical release (a real tragedy for the film’s Oscar chances), audiences have seen the trailers for Shutter Island and so are already familiar with the basic premise: Mentally unhinged U.S. marshal Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) goes in search of an escaped convict/patient at an island-based mental institution off the coast of Boston. While searching Ashecliffe Hospital with his new partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), Teddy finds himself combating a hurricane and a subversive institutional staff (led by Sir Ben Kingsley).

The real narrative, though, takes place within Teddy’s mind, as headaches and delusions begin to muddle his investigation. The line between reality and delirium becomes blurred, and it’s here that DiCaprio gets a chance to shine; indeed, this might be DiCaprio’s top performance, even besting his last outing with Scorsese in 2006’s The Departed.

Surrounded by an omnipresent cloud of smoke pluming from his pipe, Kingsley almost steals the show with his turn as the shady Dr. Cawley, continually dodging questions and requests for help in favor of his own personal agenda. And just wait until that agenda is revealed, because it’s one of the most alarming twists in recent American film history - which, I suppose, owes as much to the Dennis Lehane book on which the film is based as it does to Scorsese’s penchant for last-reel shockers.

But the true star here is Scorsese himself. No, he doesn’t appear on screen as he has in previous films (his taxicab confession is arguably the spookiest part of Taxi Driver), but what Scorsese does from behind the camera is masterful. From the opening moments of the film, Scorsese puts the viewer on edge, forcing us to orient ourselves first on a buoyant ferry and then en route to a high-security zone of an island so eerie we expect Matthew Fox to come running out of the treeline at any second.

Sorry, Lost fans: There’s no time-skipping or black smoke monsters on this island, but there is a pervading sense of imminent danger from the environment and its inhabitants, an unsettling air of mystery keeping the plot’s solution just out of reach. As Scorsese reveals Teddy’s past in a curious blend of flashback and hallucination, we get to see a master at work; Scorsese is like an expert puppeteer who knows exactly how to manipulate what he wants us to see.

A prime example of Scorsese’s skill as a filmmaker comes when Teddy and Chuck find their way into Ward C of Ashecliffe Hospital, the building in which the most dangerous patients are housed. At once claustrophobic and nerve-racking in an “I know the killer is just around the corner” kind of way, Scorsese’s direction puts the audience on edge until Teddy, relieved, escapes Ward C with his life and a fistful of questions - a literal fistful, in the case of a hospital document that becomes central to the film’s climax.

What filmgoers will be discussing most when the credits roll is exactly the film’s climax and its falling action, but to treat Shutter Island as if it were a puzzle film on the order of Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending Memento might be to do a disservice to the movie Scorsese has crafted. The psychological thriller isn’t exactly Scorsese’s trademark - he’s more at home with violent stories about the conflict between family and duty - but many other reviewers are already noting a serious debt to the canon of Alfred Hitchcock. As thrillers go, Shutter Island is certainly up there with Hitch’s Psycho and Rear Window.

Just try not to go crazy watching it.
Like every Scorsese movie, Shutter Island gets an "R for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity." There's some blood, as well as disturbing flashbacks with Holocaust overtones and a graphic suicide. A few F-bombs (also standard Scorsese fare) and a brief glimpse at naked prisoners pepper the flick.

The Informant! (2009)

Just when it seemed that the whistleblower biopic genre was getting a little too formulaic, in stumbles Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! to turn the same old storyline on its ear.

Plus, how many movies can you name with an exclamation mark in the title? While newspaper editors cringe over the repeated use of that accursed punctuation mark in The Informant! let’s see if we can’t sneak a movie review past them.

Behind a hefty weight gain, a bad hairdo and an awkward mustache, Matt Damon stars as Mark Whitacre, the titular corporate snitch who finks on his agribusiness employees Archer Daniels Midland when he realizes he can’t cover up the vast price fixing in which the company is involved. Unfortunately for the FBI, Whitacre turns out to be even dumber than he looks, calling entirely too much attention to himself and unwittingly concealing key pieces of evidence.

We’ve seen Damon go undercover in Soderbergh’s “Oceans” trilogy, but Mark Whitacre is a far cry from pickpocket Linus Caldwell as far as covert operations go. Nevertheless, Damon slides into character easily, with narration and subtle facial gestures that let us know Whitacre is one of the dullest crayons in the box.

By contrast, the FBI agents in the film are sharp and quick on their feet. Scott Bakula plays senior agent Brian Shepard, slowly simmering with patient frustration at Whitacre’s dim-bulb antics. Joel McHale, recognizable to comedy fans as host of E! Network’s The Soup and star of NBC’s new comedy Community, puts in a fine turn as Agent Bob Herndon, but the film doesn’t give him much to do beyond being exasperated.

The Informant! is unquestionably Damon’s film. His is the open-mouthed mug on all the promotional material for the film, but there’s a great ensemble cast, each of whom get about five minutes to shine, mostly as lawyers. Comedian Patton Oswalt appears as a federal prosecutor, Clancy Brown (the prison guard from The Shawshank Redemption and the voice of SpongeBob’s Mr. Krabs) plays a deep-throated lawyer and Tony Hale (Buster from Arrested Development) shows up as a wide-eyed defense attorney in leagues over his head.

The beefiest supporting role comes from veteran supporting actress Melanie Lynskey, who plays Whitacre’s conflicted wife. If only she were given a little more screen time, this might be a performance to consider for Best Supporting Actress when the Oscars roll around.

That’s another thing about The Informant! Though it’s opening in limited release - a cinematic gimmick I like to call give-us-an-Oscar release - the film doesn’t seem like it’ll be up for any golden statues come early 2010. It’s not that the performances aren’t great: They’re outstanding. But the film doesn’t seem to take itself very seriously at all. Then again, Soderbergh hasn’t taken himself entirely seriously, it seems, since 2000’s Traffic.

The script, though, is solid. Adapted from Kurt Eichenwald’s nonfiction book of the same name, The Informant! is at once hilarious and heart-wrenching, enthusiastically clever and startlingly dramatic. In between side-splitting scenes of bungled espionage, the heart of the film paints a very real portrait of a man suddenly forced to live two lives, a man who isn’t even close to up to the task.

Fortunately, Damon is more than up to the task, and Soderbergh’s not afraid to tell us a story about such profound conflict. We hoot and holler at Whitacre’s mistakes (such as adjusting a concealed tape recorder during a key price fixing meeting), but we’re heart-broken by the time the film ends. You see, we want to see Whitacre become the hero he thinks he is.

But the reality is that sometimes stupid people just do stupid things. It takes a smart film to show us that, to keep us laughing while delivering a message that doesn’t feel forced. After the four-hour commercial flop Che, it’s good to see that Soderbergh is back in form.
The Informant! is rated, mundanely enough, "R for language," warning us of a few F-bombs in store.

Paranormal Activity (2009)

Alfred Hitchcock once opined, “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” The latest in the shaky-cam horror genre, Paranormal Activity, consists of a lot of anticipation with a feeble but well-intentioned bang at the end.

We have 1999’s The Blair Witch Project to thank for this new subgenre of horror flicks, in which the camerawork is as much of a character as the actual people in the film. This is the genre that brought us Cloverfield (good), Quarantine (bad) and of course Blair Witch (ugly despite its inventiveness). Paranormal Activity falls somewhere between good and ugly, sadly falling short of its “scariest movie ever” hype (nice try, Time magazine).

New faces Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat play fictionalized versions of themselves in a seemingly haunted house. We quickly learn that Katie has been haunted since the age of eight, and the house is just the latest dwelling for something more demonic than a mere ghost.

The star of the film isn’t Featherston, who does a more than serviceable job being frightened out of her wits. It’s not Sloat, who brings a fun and slightly cynical attitude to a genre that sometimes takes itself too seriously. The real star is the camera that Micah purchases to document the titular paranormal activity that’s running rampant in the house.

Consequently, the nighttime scenes punctuated only by a timestamp are the most compelling in the 90-some minutes of the film. Katie and Micah prop a camera by their bedside before turning in for the night, and the ensuing footage forms the emotional backbone of the movie. The special effects shine (to reveal these effects would be to spoil some of the film’s more terrifying surprises), and you’ll never again look at those things that go bump in the night the same way.

If the film put more of an emphasis on these nocturnal hauntings, it might very well have been the scariest movie of the year (and heck, it might be anyway, when we consider that horror flicks tend to put more of an emphasis on chests over deaths).

But Paranormal Activity suffers from the same tendencies that irreparably hurt Blair Witch - namely, scenes in which characters recover from hauntings and try to explain what’s happening to them dominate the picture. Katie and Micah spend far too much time being afraid and not enough time being frightened; there’s a semantic but important distinction, and it makes all the difference as to whether the audience is bored or terrified.

For comparative purposes, look to 2008’s The Strangers, in which masked murderers stalked Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman in their cabin retreat. There the protagonists spent the entire movie terrified, and so did the audience. Where Paranormal Activity lets us breathe between frights, The Strangers never let up, with its omnipresent killers crouching in every shadow. The ghost/demon/whatever-it-is haunting Katie and Micah only comes out at night.

But it’s not all boring. The film hits a few great bangs, sometimes literally. Footfalls, creaks and tricks of the light (especially an ominous blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shadow) are more terrifying than anything you’ll see in the Saw series, in which the only thing left that’s still frightening is that the franchise hasn’t been euthanized.

But if Paranormal Activity marks the death knell of the shaky cam genre, it’s an appropriate bookend. Blair Witch wasn’t scary at all, but it showed some potential. Paranormal Activity, on the other hand, cashes in on that potential but still leaves something to be desired as far as quantitative scares go.

At least, that’s what I’ll tell myself until the next time I hear a creaky floorboard in the middle of the night.

Paranormal Activity gets a spooky "R for language," which includes a few heat-of-the-moment F-bombs but does not include the bangs and jump moments for which the film is infamous.

The Men Who Stare at Goats (2009)

It’s refreshing to see an Army movie that isn’t politically charged. There’s no hidden agenda at work in The Men Who Stare at Goats” - just hippies, psychic powers and goats. Lots of goats.

Grant Heslov (co-writer of the Murrow biopic Good Night, and Good Luck) directs Jon Ronson’s book of the same name, profiling reporter Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) as he begins to investigate and uncover a top-secret military research program on psychic abilities.
If it sounds like an intrigue-laden espionage thriller, it’s not. Bob’s top contact is Lyn Cassady (George Clooney), a dishonorably discharged serviceman who still insists that he’s a Jedi warrior but who can’t seem to drive a car for more than two scenes without horribly wrecking it. Lyn’s mentor, Bill Django, is even more ridiculous; Jeff Bridges is perfectly cast as the innovator of the Army’s new program, more Jeffrey Lebowski than Sgt. Hartman.

That Clooney and Bridges cut their comedy teeth in films directed by Joel and Ethan Coen is a fascinating coincidence, because if there’s one word I’d use to describe The Men Who Stare at Goats, it’s Coen-esque. Heslov is borrowing more than a page from the Coen book here, playing up the absurdity and playing down conventional techniques of cinema (like character development or chronology). It doesn’t matter that the characters don’t really grow or that the storyline oscillates back and forth in time like an episode of Lost on LSD.

What matters is the ridiculous nature of the story unfolding before our eyes. This is a movie driven more by personality than by plot, more by narration than by narrative. The personalities in the film - McGregor as the piece’s Doubting Thomas, Clooney playing dead-on deadpan and Bridges as a doped-up hippie holdout, with Kevin Spacey as a smarmy mentalist - successfully carry the picture from its low-key opener to its unabashedly hokey high-note ending.

What’s even more fun than the Star Wars metafictional subtext (McGregor, lest we forget, played Obi-Wan Kenobi from 1999 to 2005) is that the film keeps pretending to take itself seriously. Even though the narrative throughline is grounded in Bob’s quest for an identity, let’s not forget that isn’t the opening scene of the film. The first scene finds Gen. Hopgood (Stephen Lang) running headfirst into a wall he thinks he can pass through.

Similarly, The Men Who Stare at Goats never really tells us if the Army has developed psychic weaponry. For every bent spoon, there’s something like the death touch - the dim mok - that doesn’t kill you right away but could take effect at any time years later. For every cloud that Lyn Cassady disperses with his mind, there’s a giant rock he rear-ends with the car he’s driving.

But none of that matters. The film’s much more of a throwback to the old Bob Hope and Bing Crosby buddies-on-the-road pictures of the mid-20th century. As such, then, the film doesn’t break a lot of new ground; the laughs are more than amusing, but they aren’t anything we haven’t seen before. There’s nothing new, for example, about Major General Holtz’s (Glenn Morshower, TV’s Aaron Pierce on 24) exclamation of “Holy (you-know-what)” upon seeing Lyn kill a goat with his mind, but the Southern drawl delivery, not the uniqueness of the moment, is what elicits the biggest laugh in the scene.
But what The Men Who Stare at Goats lacks in ingenuity, it makes up in execution. The cast have spent years climbing to the top of the Hollywood ladder, but it’s pictures like these that prove they’re not too good to make us chuckle.

With Oscar season right around the bend, The Men Who Stare at Goats isn’t cerebral drama or even brainy comedy, but it’s just right for (to paraphrase a line from Cyndi Lauper) girls - and boys - who just want to have fun.
These goats are rated "R for language, some drug content, and brief nudity." Language is run of the mill F-bombs, but the drug content is heavy although played for laughs. As for nudity, there's a fleeting glimpse of two rear ends from a distance.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Jennifer's Body (2009)

It's been a while since I posted a review on here (sorry, loyal fans), and it's been even longer since I posted a bad review. But Jennifer's Body, Diablo Cody's latest and far-from-greatest, was so bad that I just had to get back in the saddle for this very special occasion.

The movie's success banks largely on two factors: Juno-level snarkiness from screenwriter Cody's second big screen attempt, and Megan Fox being downright gorgeous (which, don't mistake me, she is). But a movie can't really rely on tradition and star power to succeed; nine times out of ten, a movie needs a little bit more to go on, like a substantive plot or a solid cast. Unfortunately for Cody, Fox, and director Karyn Kusama, Jennifer's Body is a dismal and tragic flop.

For a movie like this, why bother with the plot summary? You've seen the trailers a million times, and it's not like it's anything new in this movie - but here goes: after a close encounter with a Satan-worshipping emo band, Jennifer Check (Fox) suffers a demonic possession which compels her to devour her male classmates in order to preserve her alpha-female good looks. Best friend Needy (Amanda Seyfried) takes notice and starts to worry; prominent soundtrack, innuendo, and copious gore ensue.

One can't help but draw a comparison to Evil Dead (reviewed elsewhere on this site), although the comparison is bound to be an unflattering one for Jennifer's Body. Where Evil Dead relied on many of the same sight gags (vomiting technicolor bile, for one) and overt campiness, there was something endearing with the Sam Raimi horror flick, and I'm not referring to Bruce Campbell's oversized chin. Jennifer's Body, conversely, feels tired and uninspired, as though the filmmakers are trying to leap over the obligatory waiting period before a film's labeled a "cult classic." If Jennifer's Body ever does become such a beast, it'll likely be of the "Mystery Science Theater" variety rather than a much-loved (and deservedly so) Lebowski.

Fans of Cody (which seems an odd category, since she only has one other film to her Hollywood credits) will be looking for a smashing soundtrack and over-the-top dialogue. I suppose you'll find both in Jennifer's Body, but there's something decidedly underwhelming about the execution of each. The soundtrack is riddled with bands like Fall Out Boy and Death Cab for Cutie, bands whose names I know but whose "top" songs I'd be hard-pressed to identify. If you like that sort of thing, go for it; I for one found myself bored with it and longed instead for a Rolling Stones track to appear (which, it doesn't). As for the dialogue, it's obvious the same writer penned Juno, but the delivery leaves something to be desired; Ellen Page could have pulled off a line like "I am going to eat your soul and s--t it out," but Fox just can't do it.

Speaking of acting chops, this cast almost had it. Almost. Never mind the fact that the movie was marketed on Fox's good looks and nude scenes (which, disappointingly for some, never actually deliver); the simple fact of the matter is that Megan Fox is a terrible actress and needs to be removed from the Hollywood scene in fairly short order. She looks great, I'll admit, but if a film is asked to be put on shoulders like those - well, even Atlas would shrug. The supporting cast tries, it really does; Seyfried is charming and cutesy as the unfortunately-nicknamed Needy Lesnicky, but I have a hard time buying her as a "plain Jane." Juno vet J.K. Simmons pops in every once in a while as the high school science teacher with 1970s Donald Sutherland hair and a hook for a hand, but while Simmons is a delight as always, his presence in the film is a continual reminder of Cody's failed attempts to one-up herself from the teen pregnancy dramedy that earned her an Oscar.

I've been describing this movie to my family and friends as "trainwreck bad," a phrase I could imagine one of the characters uttering in a Cody screenplay; this movie is flat-out terrible, but it's impossible to turn away. Even though the ending is wholly predictable right from the start (the first shot of the film tells us that Needy ends up in an asylum at the end of the story - gee, wonder why?), there's something tragically watchable in front of me, and I couldn't for the life of me turn away. But don't mistake slack-jawed disbelief for rapt interest: even though Jennifer's Body may be smokin' hot, there's no fire here. "Hell yes"? Hell, no.
The MPAA slapped Jennifer's Body with a hard "R for sexuality, bloody violence, language, and brief drug use." The movie relies heavily on skimpy outfits, implied moments of undress, and more cleavage than an X-Men comic at its most exploitative; violence is fairly standard and won't shock long-time horror fans with its moments of dismemberment by cannibalism. Language is typical Cody fare, with F-bombs and sexual epithets at every turn, and drug use crops up periodically to remind us that this is a movie about high schoolers.