‘Jennifer’s Body’ fails at horror and comedy

By Alonso Duralde

When an Oscar-winning screenwriter like Diablo Cody chooses a horror movie for her second project, expectations are naturally raised that the big shot, Hollywood-approved writer is going to give that rough-and-tumble genre an injection of smarts and subversive chills.

That’s not what we get in “Jennifer’s Body,” an all-too-routine fright flick saddled with lazy writing and characterization and not much in the way of suspense or terror. Worse still, all of Cody’s trademark pop-culture–infused dialogue stands out as artificial and precious; when someone says, “Nice comeback, Hannah Montana!” or adds “dot org” to the admonition “Move on,” it’s so joltingly off-key that the soundtrack should provide rimshots.

Amanda Seyfried stars as Needy, the Minnesota nerdy girl who’s always allowed herself to be overshadowed by her va-va-voom-y best friend Jennifer (Megan Fox), the hottest babe at Devil’s Kettle High. One night, the two head to the local roadhouse to see an indie band fronted by Nikolai (Adam Brody), who clearly has unseemly intentions toward the flirtatious Jennifer.

When the bar catches fire — in a scene shot so oddly by director Karyn Kusama (“Girlfight”) that at first I thought it was supposed to be a dream sequence — a dazed Jennifer goes off with the band, only to turn up later at Needy’s house covered in blood and puking up some sort of foul black bile. But the next day, Jennifer’s at school, more gorgeous than ever, and seemingly oblivious of the fact that several of her classmates died in the fire.

Ah, but Jennifer has changed — in what Cody probably intended to be a reversal of a pubescent girl’s change of life, Jennifer must consume the blood of others once a month or she becomes weak and plain-looking. So it’s no wonder that male students keep going missing. When Needy finally realizes what’s up, she has to figure out a way to stop her onetime BFF’s killing spree before Needy’s boyfriend Chip (Johnny Simmons) becomes the next victim.

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“Jennifer’s Body” wants so badly to be a “Heathers”-esque dark comedy, but its shortcomings makes you appreciate why that earlier film was so great. In “Heathers,” every student at Westerberg High, no matter what their place on the social chain, seemed to have some sort of distinct identity, whereas “Body” gives us a few lead characters and some potential lunchmeat for Jennifer’s demonic appetite — everyone else seems faceless or nameless. (And what the heck is up with introducing Jennifer’s police-cadet boyfriend Roman, played by Chris Pratt, early in the film and then never mentioning him again?)

Seyfried made me believe she’d spent most of her life hiding her light under a bushel next to her popular pal; Needy feels like a complete departure from her “Big Love” and “Mamma Mia!” characters. Unfortunately, while I’d been giving Fox the benefit of the doubt that no thespian comes off well working for Michael Bay, nothing she does or says in “Jennifer’s Body” convinces me that this very attractive young lady has the tiniest amount of acting talent.

Even if you weren’t a fan of “Juno,” there’s no denying that Cody’s script for that film at least had a strong plot with some interestingly idiosyncratic characters. Her sophomore effort shows no real feel for teen comedy or teen horror; somebody undid her doodle.

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