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'Jawbreaker' fails by trying too hard


If only "Jawbreaker" were as tough as its namesake candy.

Unfortunately, it's not dark enough to be a black comedy, satiric enough to be a farce, claustrophobic enough to be suspenseful or over-the-top enough to be a guilty pleasure.

Instead, it's another one of those films that suggests how dangerously pervasive high school cliques are -- a theme "Heathers" dealt with much better 10 years ago.

The film opens with four bodacious high school babes walking in slow motion down the hallway, a voiceover letting us know this is where the power at Reagan High rests.

But life turns ugly when a prank goes wrong and one of them ends up dead at the hands of the other three, choking on a jawbreaker they had used to gag her.

Julie (Rebecca Gayheart, who has real breakout potential, if only a good role would come along), wants to 'fess up and call the cops, but she's soon overruled by the Lady Macbeth of the group, Courtney (Rose McGowan, oozing nasty). Make it look like rape, she orders; that way we'll stay out of trouble and -- more important -- retain our power status.

All seems to be going well until a fifth girl, mousy Fern (Judy Evans Greer), stumbles into the room. Freaked at first, she agrees to go along only after Courtney promises to make her one of them -- beautiful, popular and nasty.

Can the girls maintain this charade? Who'll crack first, nice Rebecca or demonic Courtney? And can Fern really blossom?

Gayheart and McGowan struggle valiantly to make "Jawbreaker" work, but they can't make up for the film's reluctance to push any one envelope. Writer-director Darren Stein uses the slow-motion camera trick way too often, and some intriguing supporting players -- Pam Grier, P.J. Soles ("Halloween") and Jeff Conaway (TV's "Taxi") -- are wasted in throwaway roles.

I did like the sequence that plays under the opening credits, however, having always wondered just how jawbreakers are made.


Starring Rose McGowan and Rebecca Gayheart

Directed by Darren Stein

Rated R (sexuality, language and violence, all involving teens)

Released by Columbia/TriStar

Running time 87 minutes

Sun score **

Pub Date: 2/19/99

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