2 stars (out of four)
Despite this movie's bloodthirsty title, at no point do any of the characters display actual homicidal rage. The "death" referred to in "John Tucker Must Die" appears to be a reference to social "death," or extreme embarrassment, rather than a physical demise. In high school, of course, they can feel like essentially the same thing.
As the anti-hero of the movie, the aforementioned John Tucker (played by Jesse Metcalfe, the underage gardener from "Desperate Housewives") is targeted for social annihilation after each of his three girlfriends discovers she's not alone in falling for the basketball star's considerable charms.
And apparently, the worst thing you can do to a BMOC like Tucker is make him behave like a girl. So much for girl power. While kudos are due director Betty Thomas and screenwriter Jeff Lowell for making John Tucker's fictional high school a virtual UN of multiculturalism, they've no reason to be proud of the way they handle gender issues. Maybe the generation that will see and enjoy this movie has reached a point of such advanced post-feminist thinking that sexism is a non-issue, but frankly, I doubt it. It's enormously discouraging, especially given the film's "you go, girl" window dressing, that John Tucker's most "humiliating" episodes are linked to him behaving "like a girl" (i.e. talking about his feelings, obsessing about his thighs, crying for no apparent reason). Oh, the hilarity.
That caveat aside, as teen movies go, "John Tucker Must Die" is reasonably entertaining. It boasts admirable self-awareness and a higher-than-average cultural IQ: This may mark the first movie reference to Dave "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" Eggers. The film also boasts a semi-ironical and highly distracting soundtrack, which is not only unnecessarily loud, but rather unforgivably cannibalizes both classics its target audience has probably never heard before ("50 Ways to Leave Your Lover") as well as newer hits ("Float On.").
The girls who are out to destroy John Tucker's life are meant to represent a cross-section of high school society--the super-achiever (played by Arielle Kebbel), the head cheerleader (Ashanti) and the free-love hippie chick (Sophia Bush)--but they're all pretty much the same: popular, gorgeous and disdainful of newcomers. That's bad news for Kate (the amiable but perplexed-looking Brittany Snow, late of NBC's "American Dreams") who, like most high school students, is desperate for approval, friendship and a sense of belonging. Unlike most high school students, she actually finds all three.
Sadly, the path to social acceptance never did run smoothly. Initial attempts to discredit, embarrass or otherwise tarnish the iconic Tucker are spectacularly unsuccessful, and finally, Kate steps in to bring Tucker down. This allows the introduction of another high school movie chestnut: that the theoretically "unpopular" or "unattractive" kids are, in fact, perfectly attractive, which is evident to everyone only after they undergo a mind-blowing transformation (removing their glasses and/or plumping their cleavage).
Despite its various shortcomings, "John Tucker" isn't a terrible movie. It just isn't terribly funny or terribly interesting, although I suspect that its intended audience won't mind very much. And in its defense, it's far less predictable and insulting than the vast majority of teen movies released in recent years. And that, at the very least, is a step in the right direction.
'John Tucker Must Die'
Directed by Betty Thomas; screenplay by Jeff Lowell; photographed by Anthony B. Richmond; edited by Matthew Friedman; music by Richard Gibbs; production design by Marcia Hinds; produced by Bob Cooper and Michael Birnbaum. A Twentieth Century Fox release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:27. MPAA rating: PG-13 (for sexual content and language).
Kate - Brittany Snow
John Tucker - Jesse Metcalfe
Beth - Sophia Bush
Heather - Ashanti
Carrie - Arielle Kebbel
Lori - Jenny McCarthyCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun