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Brandon Judell

John Tucker Must Die, But Sadly Survives Here

By Brandon Judell

The weather outside is confirming every Al Gore admonition. Yes, we're having a heat wave. A tropical heat wave. Thankfully, the interior of my local AMC is nice and chilly, allowing me to forget our former veep's inconvenient truths.

My euphoria is short-lived though. Having chosen admission to "John Tucker is Dead," I quickly realize I've made a deal with the devil. That for the divine blitheness of staying cool and comfy, I'll be battered for 87 minutes with the fact that I'm very, very old.

Yes, according to the imdb.com score card, this teen romancer is a favorite with females under 18, faring only slightly worse with females 18-29. All men and all sexes aged 40 and over, however, are opining that they'd rather listen to a recording of nails scooting across a blackboard.

Director Betty Thomas, whose helming career, after "Private Parts" (1997) and "The Brady Bunch Movie" (1995), seems to be belted onto a one-way rollercoaster ride heading toward a shallow hell, displays neither finesse nor vision here. Just imagine an extremely long, unfocused installment of "Saved by the Bell."

As for screenwriter Jeff Lowell, whose credits include episodes of "The Drew Carey Show" and "Spin City" plus the forthcoming feature "How I Met My Boyfriend's Dead Fiancé," he appears to reveling in a lack of originality and wit, plus a sophomoric insight into human nature.

The contrived "plot" revolves around a trio of popular high school girls discovering that their boyfriend, the local stud and basketball star John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe of "Desperate Housewives' " gardening fame) is triple-dealing them. Yes, he's simultaneously dating all three very intensely. What are the heartbroken gals to do when they discover his dastardly deeds?

Thanks, to the advice of Kate (Brittany Snow), a despondent, invisible, unpopular nobody whom they meet in detention, the young women decide to stop throwing volley balls at each other and to team up. Their plan: falsely accuse Tucker of having herpes. And if that doesn't dissipate his popularity, they'll transform Kate into a sexy cheerleader who will seduce the crass Casanova and then reject him. One obstacle to this intrigue is that Kate is really smitten with Tucker's bro Scott (Penn Badgley).

Putting the tired ugly-duckling transformation and the inane dialogue aside, there are pluses here. For Metcalfe fans, the heartthrob is often shirtless and he also bares his butt for a lengthy scene in which he scrambles about in a scarlet thong.

Then there's unrecognizable Jenny McCarthy as Kate's mom. You'll have a fun time trying to figure out which part of her face has been redone to cause this unfamiliarity.

There's also a sultry female-on-female smooch between Kate and Beth (Sophia Bush), who's trying to teach the poor girl how to kiss, supplying the only sexual spark in this whole effort.

On the negative side, while the film is patently nonracist, taking interracial dating as a given state of affairs, the only black male here is the obese Tommy played by the appropriately named thespian, Fatso-Fasano. His task is to go around farting in the gym locker room.

Additionally, the hapless Scott Tucker is sexier than his sibling John, and Kate is too attractive to be believably such a social mess. Flunk the casting director.

It should also be noted that captivating Badgley is the only actor among the cast who gives what can be called a performance.

But criticizing a summer teen movie for not being high art is like yelling at a sociopath for being a serial killer. From "Tammy" to "Gidget" to "The Beach Blanket Bingo" flicks, films for the acne aged are supposed to be simpleminded fare that supplies archetypes for the inexperienced members of the audience to imitate once they leave the theater. As Geoffrey O'Brien notes in "The Phantom Empire," movies have served as mating-ritual primers from their infancy.

In that case, there's really no excuse for slaughtering "John Tucker Must Die." A sympathy card will do.

Director: Betty Thomas
Cast: Jesse Metcalfe, Brittany Snow, Ashanti, Sophia Bush, Arielle
Kebbel, Penn Badgley, Jenny McCarthy, Fatso-Fasano

Copyright © Brandon Judell 2006
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