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Case Number 17967: Small Claims Court

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Jennifer's Body

Fox // 2009 // 108 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Daniel Kelly (Retired) // December 23rd, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Daniel Kelly remembers when he was a demonically possessed cheerleader who feasted on human flesh. Yeah, Summer 2006 was pretty good.

Editor's Note

Our review of Jennifer's Body (Blu-Ray), published January 13th, 2010, is also available.

The Charge

Humans might say: Jennifer's Body is out on DVD.
Diablo Cody might say: Oh my blog, J-Bod is out on a totally freaktarded and salty DVD.

The Case

Jennifer's Body was the subject of much disappointment on its theatrical run this September past. The earnings were below par and critics viewed the enterprise as a lackluster venture and ample opportunity to attack star Megan Fox and writer Diablo Cody. For Cody, it was always going to be tough to follow up her Oscar winning screenplay for Juno, and right from the bat it's only fair to say that Jennifer's Body isn't the same caliber of movie. Despite some haters emerging from the woodwork since its Oscar triumph in 2008, Juno will always be seen by the majority as a charming and wonderfully unique picture. It's hard to see anyone feeling the same way about the horror-comedy style of Jennifer's Body. Still is it really a complete stinker? Does it really prove that Diablo Cody is a one trick pony? Can it once and for all show that Megan Fox is all sex appeal and no acting chops?

I would strongly argue the answer to all three questions is no. Jennifer's Body has several faults and never really threatens to challenge the genre's best efforts, but overall I reckon many folks could have a good time with it. I certainly found myself entertained for much of the runtime, and as far as Megan Fox goes, she genuinely impressed me in Jennifer's Body.

The film kicks off in the small community of Devil's Kettle, the hometown of Needy (Amanda Seyfried, Mamma Mia!) and Jennifer (Megan Fox, Transformers), her best friend and local hottie. One night the pair decides to hit the local bar and see indie group Low Shoulder, fronted by the charming Nikolai (Adam Brody, In the Land of Women), Jennifer having her eyes set on the handsome lead singer. In a tragic twist of fate the bar goes up in flames mid gig, Jennifer hustled away in the band's van whilst Needy is left cold and nervous concerning her friend's fate. Jennifer later appears a gaunt and bloody wreck but the next day at school she seems her usual chirpy and narcissistic self, leaving Needy to suspect that something isn't right. Before she can holler "demonic transference," local boys turn up brutally mutilated and it transpires that super hot Jennifer has been possessed by a demon, teenage guys her newfound food of choice. Needy is left to take on Jennifer in a bid to save the male population and specifically boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons, The Spirit), but in order to keep them from becoming a buffet, she may have to do the unthinkable and dispatch her best friend.

It's not hard to see why Diablo Cody's brand of quirky dialogue and warped humour is an acquired taste, but for the most part I'm a fan. If you're a Cody hater then I doubt Jennifer's Body will change your opinion, indeed it's probably on the weaker end of her CV at this career juncture. It's a decent film but it lacks the dramatic imagination and revolutionary warmth of Juno, even the more comedic elements not as sharp and memorable here. So with that in mind it's not hard to see why Jennifer's Body was given such a garroting on release, there are simply too many people out there who want to slander Cody but weren't given justifiable means with her superlative debut. As a result, this film had its flaws accentuated by large portions of the critical media, all looking to tear the Oscar winning writer down to size and leave her with much to think about. Granted there are times when the writing is excessively kooky and indulgent, but there is also some pretty winning material on hand too. As a comedy, Jennifer's Body is better than it is during its horror moments, the movie has some substantive and keen laughs on hand and the dialogue has a knowing spark that encourages smiles and giggles. Also, like any proper combination of scary and funny, the movie has a twisted sensibility and grabs its R-Rating by the balls, large dosages of profanity and some gore allowing the film to show that on a surface level at least, it wants to be taken seriously by fans of fare like An American Werewolf in London and The Evil Dead. Sure it might never hit the heights those flicks escalate to, but it's an earnest effort, made better thanks to Cody's unique touch.

The performances from the two leading women are great. Seyfried is obviously fantastic as the sleuthing Needy but what stands out on a second viewing of the picture is just how solid Megan Fox is. Currently adorning magazine covers and adolescent fantasies worldwide, it's easy to see why Fox's ability might be overlooked in favour of her beautiful appearance, but in Jennifer's Body she is actually very good. She demonstrates a commendable comedic skill and a menacing screen presence that might keep her in the Hollywood framework for much longer than anticipated. Sure she has yet to prove any true range, but here her energy and understanding of the dark material allow for a fun performance. Plus a sequence in which she is threatened with a knife actually elicits a strong emotional response from the audience, much of that to do with Fox's heartfelt and nicely balanced acting. Amanda Seyfried provides a terrific hook for the audience to access the story through, attacking her meaty role with the sympathetic but steely mindset necessary to make it work. Her shared scenes with Fox are generally the best in the film, Cody allowed as a consequence to work her acid tongued mojo and construct strong relationships simultaneously. Elsewhere things are a little more mixed. Johnny Simmons is dull and unconvincing as Needy's concerned boyfriend but Adam Brody and J.K Simmons (depicting an emotionally strung-out teacher) are modestly effective, though both are used primarily for comic rather than dramatic scenes.

There are a handful of creepy shots and some ethereal imagery, but largely the movie isn't that scary. Karyn Kusama certainly has a stylish eye (though slow-mo flashbacks aren't necessary) but she certainly isn't an auteur of horror. Kusama struggles to imbue much fear or tension into the movie and whilst the ending is wonderfully hyper and bloody, little else disturbs or unnerves. I've stated that the film works better as a comedy, but this is probably more down to Cody's knack with words than anything Kusama contributes; indeed, I would have to say it's her rather than Fox or Cody who is the villain on this occasion. Adding to her lack of flair with scares we also have some troubling pacing issues, the middle half hour of the flick could most notably be ten minutes shorter. At 102 minutes the film isn't especially lengthy but I suspect the picture could be 90 minutes and still be the same enjoyable piece of popcorn filmmaking. Kusama's last film before this was the disastrous Aeon Flux, and so her directorial credentials are already questionable, leaving me to feel she might be guilty for more than a few of this feature's flaws.

The film wraps up nicely and on a pleasingly sadistic note, rounding out what is actually a pretty cool movie. It's got issues and won't win Cody many new converts but I still feel Jennifer's Body was mistreated on release and deserves a second chance on DVD. Fox provided a screener for review and so the picture and sound quality weren't a fair representation of the final product, thus they have not been factored into the score. On the other hand the DVD included both the theatrical and unrated (adds about six extra minutes, changes virtually nothing) cuts along with a commentary for each version. The first for the theatrical version has Kusama and Cody talk you through the picture with a nice buzz but it isn't particularly probing or revealing. They discuss mostly trivial aspects of production, albeit pleasantly, yet it would be hard to sit and listen to it in one big session. Kusama gives a commentary on selected scenes for the extended cut, the result more informed but considerably drier. Both commentaries are somewhat lacking, and it's a little disappointing to see they are the only bonus features on this release, Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried are totally absent from the supplementary material which will be disheartening for fans of the film.

The Verdict

Within reason I quite liked Jennifer's Body, and I now realise I made it through the review without once alluding to the lesbian kiss between Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried. On that note I suggest you give it a rental because I don't think it's guilty. In the future, however, it would be nice if Fox could include even a few extra EPK standard features to branch out the added content.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 83

Perp Profile

Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Subtitles:
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated R
Genres:
• Comedy
• Horror
• Teen

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentaries

Accomplices

• IMDb
• Cinema Verdict Review








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