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Teen Scheme

A weird wager doesn't make She's All That a good bet

You can't escape it.
No matter where you run, no matter where you hide, you just can't escape the arsenal of teensploitation flicks that'll be coming out this year.

Dawson's Creek star James Van Der Beek has already shown up on the big screen defiantly scoring touchdowns in Varsity Blues. By the end of 1999, practically any actor who is either under 25 or looks like it will have a movie out.

It isn't that surprising. Every few years or so, Hollywood, the media and everybody else realizes just how much teenage audiences mean to the movie industry. Let's face it: If it wasn't for them, there wouldn't be such a thing as repeat business, gratuitous sex and violence, pop-music soundtracks, Leonardo DiCaprio and so on. Spin even graced its February issue with a cover story on how teensploitation flicks have influenced generations.

So now movie studios are currently planning to suck the lawn-cutting money out of kids' wallets by pumping out a bunch of teen-friendly films before the millennium. Even Miramax -- which usually preserves this stuff for its B movie wing, Dimension -- is staking a claim in the teen-romp genre with the aptly titled She's All That.

Although viewers of this film might draw obvious comparisons to the immortal teen flicks of John Hughes and Amy Heckerling, the movie looks more like a lighthearted, adolescent spin on the postmodern theater of cruelty popularized by independent filmmakers like Todd Solondz or Neil LaBute. The film does recall My Fair Lady, Heckerling's Clueless and LaBute's art-house shocker In the Company of Men.

She's All That features a high school BMOC, affable, straight-A jock Zach Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr. of the I Know What You Did Last Summer movies), who gets dumped by his girlfriend. Siler bets one of his buddies that he can turn any introverted geek girl into a prom-queen-worthy babe. His pal chooses Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook), a proud but protective loner who is eerily reminiscent of Solondz's Welcome to the Dollhouse protagonist, Dawn Wiener. She's an art-loving outcast who's so cruelly reviled by the student body that even the black-clad, gloom-and-doom types advise her to go kill herself.

Although it doesn't dawn on him until later that this is very, very wrong, Siler goes along with the wager and launches a personal campaign to get Boggs out of her shell and ready for the prom. Needless to say, our boy takes a shine to the bespectacled beauty as she introduces him to performance art (she pressures him into doing a monologue about a hackysack) and gives him insights on how to control his life. (Right about here is where the morality kicks in.)

Director Robert Iscove, who made last year's successful TV adaptation of Rodgers & Hammerstein's Cinderella with teen-pop diva Brandy, tries to add sardonic wit to a script that's sadly formulaic. He spices things up with a climactic dance number straight out of the big dance-party ending of Footloose. But when it comes right down to it, the jocks are assholes, the prom queen's a bitch, and -- despite random curse words and a grotesque scene involving pizza and pubic hair -- this couldn't be more staid if it was an ABC Afterschool Special.

The lead roles at least show some kind of spark amid the glossy predictability. Prinze displays a certain charisma to try to beat the nondescript stereotypes of his fellow young, pretty-boy actors.

Cook may be best known to audiences as the heroin-chic girl who trashes a kitchen with a frying pan to emphasize the effects of drugs for a TV public service announcement. Working for her is a Sandra Bullock-ish blend of pride and innocence (it's almost as if she's channeling Bullock).

Iscove obviously wants teens to go gaga for this film. If he didn't, he wouldn't have loaded it with an array of fresh faces that you'd usually find in an issue of Tiger Beat.

Oscar winner and possible teen-flick mainstay Anna Paquin plays Siler's cosmetic-consulting sister. Kieran Culkin, the younger, stable brother of you-know-who, plays Laney's eccentric brother. Nash Bridges cutie Jodi Lyn O'Keefe is Siler's typically vain girlfriend. She dumps Siler for Scream's Matthew Lillard, who gives the movie a few howls as a self-absorbed MTV veejay. X-rated rap star Lil' Kim and teen R&B heartthrob Usher Raymond show up just to give the film street credibility. (Don't be deceived by the TV ads -- they both have about as much screen time as the Miramax logo that flashes at the beginning.)

Despite its often sarcastic tone and indie-studio credit, you keep expecting She's All That to be more than what it essentially is: another bandwagon-jumping teen knockoff.

Cynical yet familiar, the movie serves no purpose except to give the young folks another hopeful love story where the ugly duckling transforms into the elegant swan. It is too bad the film is not clever like Rushmore, the upcoming nerd-triumphs-over-all comedy. But, when it comes to a film that's got the lingo label She's All That, you shouldn't ask for much.

She's All That.
Rated PG-13.
Directed by Robert Iscove. With Freddie Prinze Jr., Anna Paquin, Kieran Culkin and Jodi Lyn O'Keefe.

 
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