Jennifer's Body is hot—it's just not scary or funny

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

There's a moment in Diablo Cody's previous film Juno (maybe you've heard of it?) in which Ellen Page as everyone's favorite knocked-up teen makes a call on her cheeseburger-shaped phone. In the midst of the call, Page says that she has to shake her cheeseburger phone, nominally because the cheeseburger phone isn't working right, but in fact, because Cody didn't seem to think that a cheeseburger phone could be funny or quirky or cute unless it was pointed out to the audience.

Cody's new black comedy/horror film, Jennifer's Body, of which she is screenwriter and executive producer, is rife with this same kind of obviousness that she seems compelled to point out. Pointing out the obvious, and the use of the obvious, can work really well in horror and comedy. Chief Brody's observation in Jaws that "We're gonna need a bigger boat!" is a great moment of comedy after a truly great scare. But the obviousness and the telegraphing in Jennifer's Body are so obvious, and so telegraphed, that the movie comes across as a 1-hour-and-42-minute trailer for itself that gives away the whole plot.

In case you haven't heard, Jennifer's Body is an ABC Afterschool Special riff about mega-cute high school girl Jennifer, played by Megan Fox, who gets demonic and anthropophagic, much to the consternation of her "BFF" Needy, played by the really very good Amanda Seyfried. Oh, yeah. Her name is "Needy". Remember what I said about "obviousness"? Yeah, "Needy" is a nickname. But really ... c'mon. "NEEDY"?

In lieu of a fantastically obvious cheeseburger phone, in the first few minutes of Jennifer's Body we're treated to a groaningly obvious bunny-slippers gag, the establishment in a voice-over that a certain character is prone to a particular aggressive behavior just before she engages in said behavior (in case we might miss it, and not be able to figure it out for ourselves when we see it) and a prologue that telegraphs the final resolution of the movie into obviousness that borders on the irrelevant. As the movie unfolds, we're treated to lots of clever-for-clever's-sake dialogue, the remarkable observation that teenage boys are kinda dumb because they're so horny, that emo is kinda lame and that Indie bands that wear lots of makeup are kinda lame. We also get not one, but two really obvious Evil Dead references in the same shot. Which, of course, Cody can't allow to be just visually obvious. A character has to address the Evil Dead references. Heaven forefend anyone should have to figure them out for themselves, or notice them.

This same obviousness derails the one interesting element in the plot—what happened to Jennifer to make her all man-chompy? The clues are all there, and it is fairly engaging to fill in the blanks. But, no ... we're treated to a long flashback with yet more voice-over that removes all the mystery from the mystery, much in the way that Freddy, Shaggy, Velma and Daphne remove the monster masks from elderly grouches who engage in complex real-estate schemes.

There are just ridiculous lapses in character logic, to the point that the characters are forced to move as the plot requires them to move, without any internal consistency. After a behemoth of a football player is murdered, a guy worried about the safety of his 85-pound girlfriend specifically because of said murder has her walk alone at night to meet him so he can warn her about the murder, rather than just tell her on the phone. A guy is called out to the middle of nowhere by a girl who he knows plays with boys' heads, and doesn't logically assume that she's punked him. A girl makes a phone call because she's insecure and spooked, then hangs up and puts down the phone when she hears creepy sounds in the darkened house. This same girl moments later doesn't call 911 when she really should. There are others. But I'm too depressed to go into them.

Director Karyn Kusama, who showed such great chops with her first feature, Girlfight, just can't seem to squeeze much out the material. The shots are flat and ... dare I say it? ... obvious. Jenifer in hot pink walking down a hallway full of people in gray and black. Seductions framed in less interesting fashions than Certs commercials. Painfully hamfisted cross-cutting. Not a scrap of tension to be found in most of the movie, though Kusama does stage a fire in a bar with a really disturbingly dreamlike lack of affect. Kudos for that.

All these shortcomings might be forgivable if Jennifer's Body were scary or funny. It's neither. As for satire, Jennifer's Body, ultimately, is as lame as the things it lampoons. You'll find much better handling of similar thematic material in John Fawcett's brilliant Ginger Snaps. Those wanting to see the movie because of Megan Fox would do much better to wait for the DVD, when they can freeze-frame certain shots. Or for the next Maxim shoot ... which this movie strongly resembles in the end, only without as much narrative integrity.