Jawbreaker

*

The high school comedy seems to be a hot genre of the moment. With She's All That and Varsity Blues behind us, and several more set for release later in the year, the teen comedy seems to be experiencing its own Renaissance. However, you wouldn't know it from the quality of the latest entry: Jawbreaker. This shockingly bitter candy definitely has a sour center.

The most popular, and most feared, clique at Reagan High School have an unexpected dilemma. They have accidentally killed one of their own, the "teen dream", Liz Purr (Charlotte Roldan), choked on a giant jawbreaker during a kidnapping prank for her 17th birthday. Now the three surviving girls must decide what to do. It takes little time at all for the group's leader, Courtney (Rose McGowan), to decide to cover it up.

The ditzy Marcie (Julie Benz) is game to go along, but the clique's final member, Julie (Rebecca Gayheart), has a guilty conscience. To make things worse, another student, the hopelessly geeky Fern Mayo (Judy Evans Greer) accidentally discovers the truth. The girls' cover is surely blown...

Not so fast. Thinking quickly, Courtney offers Fern a once-in-a-lifetime chance. After a quick makeover, Fern is transformed into Vylette, the beautiful "new girl" at school, and a full-fledged member of the popular crowd. Does this mean that popularity is the key to getting away with murder? Or will this finely honed plan crack over time?

Jawbreaker is obviously attempting to be the Heathers of its generation, and failing miserably, I might add. It manages to capture the mix of murder and teen social observations, but misses three crucial elements: sharp dialogue, witty characters and the much-needed humor.

It is possible that Jawbreaker might have succeeded in being (darkly) humorous if it wasn't shackled to its dead-weight plot. The film's most innovative twist is the makeover of Fern Mayo. At this point, Jawbreaker seems poised to spin wildly into the uncharted depths. But then, all of a sudden, the innovation stops. The film becomes mired in the murder-and-cover-up plotting, which quickly saps what little life and energy there was right out of the film.

In the film, Rose McGowan fares the best. As the manipulative clique leader, she truly dominates every scene she's in (not a difficult feat in a crowd such as this, however). It's a character crying out for a better movie (or at least another decently drawn character with which to interact.)

Jawbreaker doesn't quite know how to handle its semi-likable characters: Fern and Julie. Either one could effectively end the movie at any time by simply revealing what she knows. The lengths to which the film goes to prolong the plot have the unintentional effect of distancing us from these characters. As their motives become murky and unclear, the film finally falls to the point that it doesn't really matter who wins or loses, since all sides have become equally detestable.

"Detestable" is a good word to describe the film, Jawbreaker. It's certain that, like the murder weapon described in the film's title, Jawbreaker will be triggering more than one gag reflex in the audience.

[R - sexuality, language and violence, all involving teens] (Sony)


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