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John Tucker Must Die

Getting worked up over John Tucker Must Die (2006) is a bit like getting worked up over the taste of flan. This comedy about four high-school girls getting revenge on a triple-timing jock (Jesse Metcalfe) strikes the poses of a teen sex comedy, but it contains no sex and hardly any comedy. It's probably too saucy for middle-schoolers, and it's definitely too dopey for high-schoolers. It wastes a solid premise, toothsome actors, and a great title. (John Tucker doesn't even come close to dying, except maybe of shame.) Well, okay. There is one thing to get worked up over: The movie has an unbelievable knack for showing you glimpses of the other, more interesting movies it could be, but isn't. For example:

  1. Mr. Tucker (described as a "cross between an Abercrombie & Fitch model and a Greek god") is triple-timing three very vivid young women: the head cheerleader (Ashanti), a student-journalist brainiac (Arielle Kebbel), and a vegan activist (Sophia Bush). They're gorgeous, nasty, lively, empowered, and absolutely furious — perfect opponents for a fellow so hot he can give a woman a heart attack by winking at her. So what does the movie do? Why, it kicks them into the background so they can advise a bland, chaste Everyteen named Kate (Brittany Snow) on how to play hard-to-get so she can break Tucker's heart for them. Yawn!
  2. Kate has relevant issues: Her hot single mom (Jenny McCarthy) dates an endless string of adult John Tuckers. For a while, Kate offers the popular girls profiler-level insights into the minds of these men. But all that gets dropped when the trio starts teaching Kate how to be "hot" — which includes posing in lingerie (with spray-painted abs!) in front of a webcam.
  3. While teaching Kate how to kiss, the vegan activist plants one on Kate in a Jeep — and they both seem to enjoy it. Suddenly you're wondering if the movie's going to turn into Brokeback High. It's never mentioned again.

Of course, none of these dangling threads (and these are just a few of many) really matter, because John Tucker Must Die has a deeper problem: It isn't very funny. The cast is charming, especially Metcalfe, who almost makes you root for Tucker as he turns every prank the girls play on him into an opportunity to meet more women. But Jeff Lowell's script makes all the easy choices — rarely telling jokes that rise above slutty puns, cute-girl pratfalls, and Tucker going all stereotypically weepy when the girls spike his protein powder with estrogen. It leaves director Betty Thomas (who helmed the brilliant Brady Bunch Movie over a decade ago) without a story, or characters, worth fighting over. Fox's DVD release of John Tucker Must Die features both anamorphic (1.85:1) and full-frame transfers on opposite sides of the disc with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Both theatrical and "unrated" versions are offered from the initial menu, while extras include a commentary from director Betty Thomas and editor Matthew Friedman and three featurettes, "Grrl Power" (4 min.), "Cutting Class with Jesse Metcalfe" (3 min.), and "Kodiak Yearbook" (3 min.). Keep-case.
Mike Russell

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