Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Sep 17, 2005 8:32 am 
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Bad imitation; a clueless attempt to mimic a worthy genre of bad-girl comedy

This movie about a manipulative teen female is meant to be ironic and nasty in the vein of such classics as Heathers or at least of such worthy, if lesser, follow-ups as Mean Girls, but to achieve true offense you must be either really crude and stupid, or to achieve truly wicked wit you must be really smart. "Pretty Persuasion" almost achieves the former qualities, but not quite; the latter, which would require logic and intelligence in the script, is far, far from what the filmmakers reveal themselves capable of in this lamentable effort. The fault, indeed, is not in the acting, which is at best accomplished and confident and at least able. It is in the writing, directing, and editing, which are all astonishingly inept.

Evan Rachel Wood, whose confidence and presence are wasted here, is the alpha female, who does it all, wrecking lives left and right, for a boy. Hey, that's not hip; that's not cool! It's hard to see where this badly written story is meant to be going. It leads up to a jury trial in which she's gotten two of her classmates, including Randa, a Middle Eastern (i.e., Arab) girl in hijab, who is totally passive and commits suicide -- thus fulfilling several false stereotypes -- to go along with her in accusing an English teacher of sexual harassment -- not a good idea for the alpha female, given that when she isn't listening to her obscene racist father (James Woods, who should be ashamed), is manipulating people by granting them oral and anal favors, or watching porn. She is in no position to present herself as sexually innocent, and it is not ironic but simply illogical for her to bring forth such a case.

The private Beverly Hills high school is mere wallpaper; there's no portrait of school life here, and no sense of real personalities; thus the essential element of this kind of comedy is missing.

Skander Halim, the screenwriter, must think this badly organized series of mindlessly cruel and tasteless scenes, whose sole aim, at which it fails, seems to be to cause outrage, is somehow sophisticated and clever. How very unsophisticated and unclever it is of him to think that! He has almost no sense of the sophisticated schoolgirl sensibility or of current language.

Bad, bad, bad; and, given the promising previews full of outrageous moments, a huge disappointment.

After this disaster, and with nothing else but a trail of minor TV behind him, it'll be very surprising if the director, Marcos Siega, ever does anything on film that is beyond mediocre. The high point of his career thus far may have been his role as a post production assistant for Sleepless in Seattle. This is a step down.

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