Judge Daniel MacDonald gets in touch with his inner high school girl.
Don't get mad. Get even.
The latest entry in the Grrl Power Teen Comedy sub-genre, John Tucker Must Die owes a significant debt to the superior Mean Girls, but it mostly delivers on its premise's promise. It's got a built-in target audience, but can it play to anyone but teenage girls?
Facts of the Case
Kate (Brittany Snow, The Pacifier) is accustomed to blending in to the background, moving from school to school so often—thanks to her mom (Jenny McCarthy, Scary Movie 3) having rather questionable taste in men—that she doesn't have time to make any real friends. But after inadvertently getting involved in a squabble between three girls who have discovered they're all dating the school player, John Tucker (Jessie Metcalfe, Desperate Housewives), Kate ends up an increasingly key figure in a series of vicious plots to bring him down a few pegs.
Kate has little or no dating history herself, but has learned a lot on how to recognize and deal with jerks from her mom's ample experience, and the more she puts her knowledge to use, the more popular she becomes. Unfortunately, her newfound status comes at the price of her own down-to-earth personality.
John Tucker is not easily thrown, though, and the girls, played by Sophia Bush (Van Wilder), Ashanti (Coach Carter), and Arielle Kebbel (Be Cool), finally determine that Kate should make Tucker fall for her, then dump him in a most humiliating and public way.
While initially eager to play along, Kate's life is complicated by a burgeoning romance with Tucker's brother, and she must decide how far she wants to go for a revenge that's not hers, and for popularity that might not be all that it seems.
Promoted as an edgy, hip teen comedy, John Tucker Must Die mostly delivers for the first two-thirds of its running time. The premise—seeking revenge on a philandering stud—is nothing especially new, but the movie manages to blend a story of an outsider fitting in with revenge comedy quite well. A fun, playful tone is set early on, with choppy editing, upbeat music, and sharp dialogue punctuated by slapstick moments. Unfortunately, the tone isn't maintained consistently, and things fall back on standard conventions, but at least an effort is made to make the picture a little bit different.
There are several sequences that stand out, and I laughed out loud more than a few times, which exceeded my expectations when I popped this into my DVD player. A healthy suspension of disbelief is needed, but if you're willing to play along, expect to be entertained. Especially funny is when Tucker's bodybuilding powder is replaced with estrogen, which turns him into an emotionally unstable crybaby with tender nipples during a basketball game.
The four young women playing the leads have an egoless natural chemistry, and set up each others' jokes with an ease that smooths over the times when things get too broad. Brittany Snow stands out with the most nuanced performance, effectively conveying her character's mixed emotions on what she's doing to be popular, especially as she gets to know John Tucker more and starts to see him as a human being. I suspect her character had more lines, which were deemed unnecessary in the editing room. Snow gave a chilling turn in the third season of TV's Nip/Tuck as a young white supremacist, and she clearly has more range than this story allows for, but her talents make for a character more sympathetic than it otherwise might have been and elevate the movie.
Jessie Metcalfe, while playing a similar young hunk character to his breakout role on Desperate Housewives does well walking the line between playing a jerk and a misguided teenager. A lot depends on him gaining the audience's sympathy late in the picture, without betraying the John Tucker we've gotten to know thus far, and he pulls it off smoothly. I expect that, given the right material, he could have a solid film career ahead of him.
Director Betty Thomas (I-Spy) has taken a fairly tight script and turned in a solid, better than average teen comedy. Girls will love the message of empowerment embodied by the four leads, and will surely drool over the plentiful shots of Metcalfe sans shirt. Boys will love that they get to make their girlfriends happy by watching the film and spend ninety minutes ogling a number of hot young lasses. It's win-win for those under twenty, and won't insult the intelligence of an older crowd either.
Fox's DVD presentation features a decent video transfer, marred by a bit of excessive edge enhancement which is ultimately nothing too distracting. The audio, while being fairly nondescript during dialogue scenes, really comes to life during the frequent alternative pop song interludes—channel separation and low-end are very good, reminding you why you bought that surround sound system.
The audio commentary with director Thomas and editor Matthew Friedman is low-key but interesting, with some insight into the creation of a teen comedy and anecdotes about the cast. Other special features, though, are very short and forgettable. And the box promises both a theatrical and extended version, but the "unrated" cut is a mere 10 seconds longer, with nothing noticeably different, so don't get too excited.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While I quite enjoyed the first hour and a bit of John Tucker Must Die, it really seems to lose its way in the last twenty minutes. Most of the picture's originality and edginess goes out the window in an effort to wrap up the story all neat and tidy. The climax is especially horrendous, pretty much betraying everything that came before. It's unfortunate to see a promising, mildly ambitious story go south so quickly.
Despite an ill-advised third act, if you're looking for a light date movie you could do a lot worse than John Tucker Must Die. It's got some genuine laughs, an attractive cast, and good sounding, if somewhat generic, music.
Not guilty. But you're on notice, Betty Thomas—a bad ending will not stand.
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