- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

“Pretty Persuasion” welcomes us into the pretty little head of Kimberly (Evan Rachel Wood), a beautiful teen who thinks she is buckets smarter than everyone around her.

Moviegoers have met Kimberly’s type before, in films such as “Election,” “Heathers” and, to a lesser degree, “Clueless” and “Mean Girls.”

So we’re left with more than just a nagging sense of deja vu. We crave something fresh in the recipe.

Instead, “Pretty Persuasion” assaults us with vague cultural critiques and inconsistent characters and, worst of all, the film’s assumption that it’s smarter than all of us.

Not by a long shot.

“Persuasion” opens with a long tracking shot of Kimberly giving new Arab student Randa (Adi Schnall) a tour of their school’s turf. Try as she might to sound sympathetic, Kimberly quickly reveals herself to be both self-obsessed and spiteful.

That’s never more true than in her friendship with Brittany (Elizabeth Harnois), who dates Kimberly’s ex-boyfriend without a hint of acrimony.

Lately, the only thing all three girls have in common is a vendetta against a teacher, Mr. Anderson (Ron Livingston, perfectly cast as a nebbish with a dark side). Led by Kimberly as the wicked ringleader, they turn that dislike into a false accusation of sexual harassment.

As the court case revs up, we watch a series of characters spin out of control, from Kimberly’s noxious dad (James Woods) to aggressive reporter Emily Klein (Jane Krakowski), who wants to make her name on the case.

“Pretty Persuasion” assembles some intriguing subplots but rarely knows what to do with them. Mr. Anderson appears to have a perverted streak, but that information doesn’t affect the trumped-up molestation case or his pitiful marriage.

And while Mr. Woods is always watchable, his scenery chomping here is more a curiosity than a credible, grounded performance.

“Pretty Persuasion” can’t find a consistent tone. Every time a rollicking dark-comedy moment peeks through, a too-serious-for-satire sequence shatters the mood. The film does have a train-wreck sort of appeal, and a few laughs both inadvertent and intentional slip through.

Screenwriter Skander Halim’s dialogue sounds as if it was written by an outsider to teen culture who watched too much “Dawson’s Creek.” He also can’t make sense of his biggest asset. Miss Wood radiates wholesome beauty and wisely understates her role, but her character is so incredible there’s precious little she can do to anchor it.

Kimberly nakedly uses her sexuality to juggle friends and arrange matters to her liking, but a throwaway line pointing to her genius isn’t enough to explain her strategic victories.

The one partial standout is Miss Krakowski as the vapid reporter battling job insecurities and her raging need for female lovers.

“Pretty Persuasion’s” final seconds suggest a larger attack on our culture, but it’s like a buckshot swipe that misses by a mile. The same can be said for the picture as a whole.


TITLE: “Pretty Persuasion”

RATING: R (Nudity, sexual situations, strong language and mature themes)

CREDITS: Directed by Marcos Siega. Written by Skander Halim.

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

WEB SITE: www.prettypersuasionthemovie.com


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