- The Washington Times - Friday, September 18, 2009

Summer saw one well-budgeted horror-comedy come to the big screen: “Drag Me to Hell,” by Sam Raimi. That fright flick deftly combined horror, gross-out gags and clever quips to create an immensely entertaining melange of chills and giggles.

“Jennifer’s Body” seeks to do much the same, transporting the action from the world of young professionals to the melodrama of high school. Directed by Karyn Kusama from a script by “Juno” writer Diablo Cody, “Jennifer’s Body” has flashes of insight but fails to cohere into a memorable whole.

The tension in “Jennifer’s Body” derives from the relationship between alpha female Jennifer (Megan Fox) and the dorky friend she dominates, Needy (Amanda Seyfried). Jennifer is the kind of girl who attracts hangers-on and feeds off of their blind devotion, abusing them to feed her ego. These tendencies are only heightened after she is kidnapped and sacrificed to Satan by a small-time pop-punk band hoping to harness the dark lord’s influence in order to hit it big. Jennifer is transformed from a figurative succubus into a literal one, now feeding on the flesh of the boys in her class in addition to inflicting mental distress on her needy friend Needy.

“Jennifer’s Body” gets a few things very right, the most impressive of which is Jennifer and Needy’s twisted pairing. Most movies about high school are content to revel in generic cliches about jocks/hotties doing war with nerds/notties, but real life is rarely so simple. Far more frequently, there’s a symbiotic relationship, one in which the powerful take emotional control over the weak. Miss Cody’s script nails that notion.

The other bright spot comes from the Satan-inspired pop-punk band (led by a very funny Adam Brody in a darkly humorous turn). After sacrificing Jennifer, the band springs to national stardom when its members compose a song dedicated to the tragedies plaguing her hometown. Their self-importance and the devotion they inspire in the high schoolers surrounding Needy and Jennifer is both amusing and depressingly familiar.

Unfortunately, “Jennifer’s Body” is neither laugh-out-loud funny nor cringe-inducingly frightening. The dialogue from Miss Cody is replete with the cleverness that so defined “Juno,” but it comes off as affected and distracting in a way that it wasn’t in her Oscar-winning debut. It doesn’t help that the wittiest of lines are delivered by Miss Fox, whose hot-but-vacant look is the exact opposite of Ellen Page’s indie-cute verve.

That said, Miss Seyfried excels as the put-upon best friend who finally realizes just how badly she has been used by her supposed gal pal. Her knowing winces, subtle shrugs and other minor tics give Needy an immediacy and liveliness missing from the rest of the cast. This is her best work yet on the big screen; between this and her work on HBO’s “Big Love,” she’s developing into one of the finest young actresses working today.

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TITLE: “Jennifer’s Body”

RATING: R (sexuality, bloody violence, language and brief drug use)

CREDITS: Directed by Karyn Kusama, written by Diablo Cody

RUNNING TIME: 107 minutes

WEB SITE: https://www.jennifers body.com/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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