John Tucker Must Die (2006) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content and language
Running Time: 87 min.
Cast: Brittany Snow, Jesse Metcalfe, Ashanti, Sophia Bush, Arielle Kebbel, Penn Badgely, Jenny McCarthy, Fatso-Fasano
Director: Betty Thomas
Screenplay: Jeff Lowell
Review published August 5, 2006
Playing like a longer, slightly more risqué episode of "Saved by the Bell",
Chasing PapiJohn Tucker Must Die has the cast and the sass quotient to provide a suitably fun teen flick, but the script is a woefully trite turd. It's not that Jeff Lowell lacks experience or talent in writing comedies, as he has been in the business for years writing (and sometimes producing) for television with such shows as "The Drew Carey Show", "Spin City", and "Just Shoot Me!". I guess that's really the problem with his screenplay -- it plays like it's written for television, featuring a sitcom-style premise and homogenized attitude rare to spot in nearly any other medium than the boob tube.
Jesse Metcalfe ("Desperate Housewives") stars as the John Tucker of the title. Not only is John the hottest guy in school in terms of looks, but he's also as smooth as they come, knowing just what to say, how to say it, and perhaps best of all, lacking the scruples to be up front abut the fact that he is seeing as many girls as he can on the side. When his latest conquests, the head school cheerleader named Heather (Ashanti, Coach Carter), the brainy school reporter named Carrie (Kebbel, American Pie Band Camp), and the school environmentalist named Beth (Bush, Supercross) all find out that they've been a victim of John's charms, they conspire to get their revenge by any means necessary.
Try as they might, every time they think they've humiliated Tucker, he always manages to spin catastrophe into triumph. However, their latest scheme just can't fail, as they plan to do to John what he's done to so many other girls: make him fall for a girl only to be dumped and left with a broken heart. With the coaching skills and experience of the three girls, mousy Kate (Snow, The Pacifier), the school's "invisible girl", catches John's eye with the proper coaching. However, the plan threatens to collapse when Kate thinks she might be falling for John as well.
At the risk of belaboring my disdain for Lowell's writing skills here, what John Tucker Must Die truly lacks is a sense of authenticity. The high school depicted in the film, as well as the students and teachers in it, don't feel like they're anything I would consider reality. The lingo they use, the shallow pursuits of each character, and the chorus-like way the supporting players and extras react to witnessing the main players stem more from how an older guy too far removed from high school would write it. In fact, you'd never even need to have ever gone to high school to write this screenplay; all you'd have to do is watch TV shows about high school life to come up with the basics and just wing it from there.
Of course, that also means that your movie will more closely resemble TV high school shows than anything else, which is precisely why John Tucker Must Die has no business being a major motion picture production. It's little more than an episode of a TV comedy show, and a bad one at that, and perhaps worst of all, this sort of "revenge on the playboy" plot has been done so many times, it would take a near-miracle to actually make it engage us for nearly 90 minutes.
Even taken as an extended sitcom, this movie still isn't funny. It does sport an attractive cast and a lot of energy, but most scenes are undermined by being witless in terms of funny situations and are wholly predictable besides. If there is anyone sitting in the theater that can't guess what the outcome of the movie is going to be once the character of John's sweeter, more considerate brother is introduced, that person probably fell asleep not long after the opening credits. After watching all of the insipid events that transpire afterward, I wish I had done the same.
John Tucker Must Die may not be the worst teen movie out there, but it does treat the audience as if we're nitwits that will buy any premise, laugh at any attempt at a gag, and get goose bumps at any kiss, just as long as the outfits are colorful, the music catchy, and the leads dreamy enough to overlook every weakness. Perhaps if the film had lived up to its black comedy-worthy title and had gone for the jugular by having the girls actually try to kill John Tucker, we may have had a premise that would be at least halfway appealing.
Unfortunately, John Tucker hasn't the balls to ever make such an attempt, which I suppose is fitting for a film in which its macho main character is seen downing estrogen, choking up tears, wearing a woman's thong, and other emasculating indignities. When the film's climax comes from an admission by John Tucker about being "whipped", I wondered if he were speaking about himself or the movie about him.
©2006 Vince Leo