Jennifer's Body -- Film Review

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TORONTO -- Well, the Diablo Cody mystique sure ended fast. After a clutch of awards including an Oscar for penning "Juno," she is back in Toronto a scant two years later with "Jennifer's Body." A campy pastiche of horror and high-school movie cliches, the film only rises above standard-issue scare fare by dint of Cody's sneaky sense of humor.

The film will most disappoint those who hoped "Juno" had introduced a writer with a fresh point of view about young people in today's world. Horror fans, however, will get a kick out of this absurd yarn of a high-school hottie-turned-psycho cannibal, who feasts on all those boys dying to get into her pants. And there is enough of those arch, self-conscious comic lines to remind us this is a Cody screenplay.

So one of the last films from the Fox Atomic experiment might produce a bit of boxoffice cheer for Fox.

"Hell is a teenage girl," the teen narrator of this tale of carnage and corsages assures us at the opening. The heroine, the well-named Needy (another fine outing by Amanda Seyfried following "Mamma Mia!"), is a thoroughly violent inmate at a mental hospital.

Seems like only a couple of months ago she was perfectly normal -- other than an odd friendship with her school's supervamp, Jennifer (Megan Fox). Needy has a nerdy boyfriend, Chip (Johnny Simmons), whom she sleeps with sans guilt, but she seemingly can't resist any request from her best female friend.

So when her BFF wants her to go to a trashy dive to hear a rock band whose lead vocalist (Adam Brody) she has the hots for, Needy goes along. The night ends in tragedy even greater than the small town of Devil's Kettle realizes. Many lives are lost in a freak fire, but unbeknown to anyone, Jennifer undergoes a "demonic transference" when the band decides to make a deal with the devil and sacrifice a virgin.

Trouble is, Jennifer is no virgin. So she awakens from the dead as a flesh-eating monster who loves to snack on boys. For certain, such a scenario presents plenty of opportunities for campy excess and role reversals, and Cody sees them all coming. But nothing here hasn't been done to death -- so to speak -- in countless teen horror flicks already.

More troubling is the decision by director Karyn Kusama, who once had a shining film festival moment with "Girlfight" back at the 2000 Sundance, to encourage most of her actors to overdo every emotion. Characters quickly turn into caricatures -- especially the adults, who barely figure in the story anyway, but even in key teen roles.

Presumably, Kusama wants to underscore that this is more a comedy than a scare-a-thon. Pity she didn't trust her audience to discover this on their own, though. All that is really needed are lines like Needy's, when trying to explain Jennifer's transformation to Chip, "She's really evil, not high-school evil!"

The film doesn't lack for energy. It moves along briskly, and Kusama and Cody (who serves as executive producer) achieve several striking visual images involving blood, shadows and gloomy places.

The film is technically smooth, too, so "Jennifer's Body" is not a total miss. Just a stinging disappointment for Cody fans.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Opens: Friday, Sept. 18 (Fox)
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