Combustible Celluloid
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With: Rose McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart, Julie Benz, Judy Greer, Ethan Erickson, Chad Christ, Charlotte Roldan, Tatyana Ali, P.J. Soles, William Katt, Jeff Conaway, Marilyn Manson, Carol Kane, Pam Grier
Written by: Darren Stein
Directed by: Darren Stein
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, language and violence, all involving teens
Running Time: 87
Date: 01/30/1999

Jawbreaker (1999)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Bad Candy

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Music and the movies have always been a match made in heaven, more so even than movies and theater or movies and literature. Rock 'n' roll movies came into their own as a genre in the 1950's with The Blackboard Jungle (1955) and Jailhouse Rock (1957). Sometimes the beat became art, as in Sid and Nancy (1986), but mostly it became fun trash cinema, as in Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979). This week one of the latter types of rock movies opens in the Bay Area.

Written and directed by Darren Stein, Jawbreaker is the true sequel to Rock 'n' Roll High School (1979), but only because Stein managed to cast Palo Alto rock band The Donnas (an unapolegetic Ramones-like girl band) in the climactic scene. But, Jawbreaker lacks the kind of abandon, recklessness, and voyeurism of the movies it pays homage to.

The movie stars Rose McGowan (Scream) as Courtney, the beautiful but evil high school queen who accidentally kills her best friend, Liz Purr, the most perfect girl in the school. Her other two best friends are Julie (Rebecca Gayheart, Scream 2), and Marcie (Julie Benz, who asked Jack Nicholson how he writes women in As Good as It Gets). Marcie wants to help Courtney cover up the accident, but Julie wants nothing to do with it. A shy, geeky girl, Fern (Judy Evans Greer) happens upon the scene, and Courtney turns her into a popular sex queen to control her.

Pam Grier plays detective Vera Cruz (the name of a classic Robert Aldrich movie from 1954). I'd been waiting for Grier's next role after her big comeback over a year ago in Quentin Tarantino's Jackie Brown. But this is a nothing role, and Grier, who is sexy and powerful, looks bored. Other highly-publicized casting includes P.J. Soles (Halloween and Rock 'n' Roll High School) as Liz Purr's mother and William Katt (Brian De Palma's Carrie) as her father. But these roles are nothing more than cameos. Marilyn Manson, who's name may get a hoard of teenagers into the theater, has one scene and no lines (he waggles his tongue at us).

Otherwise gifted cinematographer Amy Vincent, who photographed 1997's Eve's Bayou is given four lovely girls to film, but drapes them all in slightly underexposed inky black edges. It makes them all look like they're under fluorescent lights or like those heroin models in trendy magazines.

If Jawbreaker could have just let itself loose and had some fun it would have made a good B-grade movie. But it's just dead in the water. Jawbreaker is a perfect example of a work created by someone obsessed with movies and not cinema. And I think that's all Stein has in his bag. The movie can't ever rise over the hump of being "not as good as Carrie," "not as good as Jackie Brown," "not as good as Heathers," etc. Even the mediocre She's All That has more personality. The only good thing about Jawbreaker is The Donnas. They rock.{subid}&url=hitlist.asp?searchfield=marvel
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