Rule Number 1 for Hollywood teen comedies: high school kids must be played by actors in their mid-20s or older. The titular anti-hero of John Tucker Must Die is played by 27-year-old Jesse Metcalfe, best known for his role as Eva Longoria’s jailbait boyfriend/ gardener in Desperate Housewives. Here he’s dating three high school princesses from different cliques so none of them knows of the others’ existence. New girl in school Kate is initially smitten -“ he’s the school’s universally popular basketball hero -“ until she discovers his cheating ways, and when his three girlfriends accidentally stumble onto his infidelities she tells them there’s nothing more empowering than revenge.
That’s about as close as this movie gets to a feminist sensibility. The four girls’ initial attempts at revenge include humiliating him by attacking his masculinity -“ they dose his energy drink with oestrogen, causing him to whine about his sore nipples and his fat thighs. Eventually, they decide to give Kate a makeover so he’ll fall in love with her and then she can unceremoniously dump him.
This brings us to another favourite Hollywood teen movie convention: any plain girl can be made to look gorgeous by removing her glasses and giving her a proper hairdo. Soon Kate has him whipped (the script conveniently abbreviates language like pussy-whipped and mother-fucker to maintain a PG rating) and with a promise of giving up her virginity she has him don a girly red g-string so his schoolmates and teachers can accidentally catch him in the hall outside her bedroom. Like all the girls’ other ploys, this has unexpected results.
There are also some pleasant surprises in the casting. Penn Badgley oozes charisma as John Tucker’s younger brother (maybe it’s his hairy chest but he looks older). He steals every scene he’s in from Jesse Metcalfe, who’s too primped, plucked and pumped up to radiate much sex appeal, despite his boyish good looks. And Sophia Bush, the high school slut from TV soap One Tree Hill, commands the screen in a supporting role as -“ guess what! -“ John Tucker‘s high school slut.
Another of the girlfriends is played by R&B star Ashanti, but the soundtrack music has little urban appeal. Filmmakers seem deeply out of touch with teen musical tastes, and they signify Kate’s coolness by revealing her as a fan of Cheap Trick and Elvis Costello. But having her name-drop writer Dave Eggers is going a bit far.
Really, criticising this sort of movie is like swatting flies. For a comedy the humour is pretty laboured, though its target audience won’t mind too much. The plot twists are more unpredictable than you’d expect. Just don’t expect much intellectual stimulation to go with the eye candy.