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Faces of evil: (l-r) Chabert, McAdams, Lohan and Seyfried in Mean Girls.

Law of the Jungle
By Shawn Stone

Mean Girls
Directed by Mark Waters

You have to love the occasional old-school Hollywood plot gimmick, such as: What would happen if you took an intellectually bright, emotionally well-adjusted teenager raised in isolation, with absolutely no socialization in her peer group, and dropped her into a “typical” American school setting?

That’s the premise of the latest vehicle for teen queen Lindsay Lohan. She’s Cady Heron, a sweet 15-year-old raised in Africa by her anthropologist parents who finds herself the “new meat” in a vicious American jungle, aka a suburban Chicago high school.

Viewed with sympathy by a pair of outcasts, goth chick Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan)—nice in-joke—and “too gay to function” Damian (Daniel Franzese), Cady is given the Reader’s Digest condensed guide to the school hierarchy. You will recognize these teen movie archetypes: stoners, math geeks, assorted insular ethnic groups, art freaks and, crucially, “the plastics.” The plastics are the wealthy, physically “ideal” teen queens universally (and paradoxically) loathed, desired and feared by the rest of the student body.

The melodramatic ’80s epics made by John Hughes loom large over the entire genre, and, as described, Mean Girls uses almost the same social background as any movie ever made starring Molly Ringwald. Except that the class roles aren’t rigid in Mean Girls—Lohan is herself enough of a “hottie” to become a plastic, which both opens up the emotional claustrophobia of a character trapped in her place (good) and gives the story the currently popular fairy-tale quality (not quite as good).

So she becomes a plastic. At first, this is at the urging of her outcast pals, who want to subvert the plastics’ hegemony from within. Though this plan proceeds nicely, the lure of being loved and feared brings out Cady’s Machiavellian side. She becomes the monster she at first abhorred.

What you’re wondering is, is any of this any fun? Absolutely. Saturday Night Live’s Tina Fey wrote the screenplay, from a book by Rosalind Wiseman, and she didn’t create one bad scene or hit one false emotional note. (OK, the jokes about the Vietnamese girls and the track coach seem forced.) The woman-power preaching is, believe it or not, thoughtful. The jokes are funny. The characterizations are acid. Best of all, the script has a genuinely nasty tone, with a couple of shockingly violent sight gags. The only failures are in the direction, which could have been more subtle, and the music: Cady’s from Africa, and the school’s another kind of jungle. . . . Lay off the “jungle drums” in the score. Please. We get it.

The acting is also first-rate, especially the plastics: Regina (Rachel McAdams), the queen bee, and her followers Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and Karen (Amanda Seyfried). They are comic evil personified, running the gamut from childish to cruel to banal.

The film wouldn’t work without Lohan, however. She has the acting chops to seamlessly make the transformation from innocent and bright to mean and stupid, and manages it in a limited time. She is so good, in fact, I almost didn’t notice. Let’s hope she can transition out of the teen-queen stereotype in real life.

Painfully shrill: Moore in Laws of Attraction.

Legally Bland

Laws of Attraction
Directed by Peter Howitt

It starts out promisingly enough, what with its Blake Edwardsy, 1960s-styled credit roll and a creamy score by Edward Shearmur, but Laws of Attraction, the supposed romantic comedy starring Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore, quickly descends into banality, the likes of which is about as intriguing as, well, reading a legal brief in a securities-fraud case.

Brosnan is Daniel Rafferty, a rumpled but charming divorce lawyer, whose no-loss streak comes to a halt when he encounters opposing counsel Audrey Woods (Moore) in a high-profile Manhattan split. Audrey instantly despises this man, or, rather, comes undone by his uncanny ability to pierce through her take-no-prisoners facade. Tellingly, he immediately spies the crumb of a Hostess cupcake, furtively sneaked in the ladies room before the trial begins, on her lip, and here is where the script’s light touch ends. As written by Aline Brosh McKenna and Robert Harling, this romance, which should simmer, is instead a series of setups written solely for the purpose of being “cute,” not as a means to discovering Daniel’s and Audrey’s personalities, their growing admiration for each other, and their undeniable mutual attraction. Viewers of the Hepburn-Tracy classic Adam’s Rib will well recall how, in that movie, the characters—lawyers on opposite sides of an attempted murder case—absolutely relished their adversarial day jobs, as if the legal warfare were an intoxicating form of foreplay, leading to what we just knew was a jolly good time back at home.

Laws of Attraction has none of that zest, or humanity, going for it.

To be sure, Brosnan and Moore are both mostly appealing, and we desperately want to root for them. But the plotline, which follows them to enchanted Ireland, where they get married in a drunken stupor, feels empty and without spark. Supporting characters like Audrey’s artifice-loving mom (Frances Fisher) and a couple on the skids, rocker Thorne Jamison (Michael Sheen) and his fashion-designer wife Serena (Parker Posey), breathe momentary life into the proceedings, but are not integrated into the story in a way that makes the whole thing work. Thinking again of an old film, I can’t help but recall how in Pillow Talk, Doris Day’s maid (Thelma Ritter) and Rock Hudson’s best friend (Tony Randall) were integral parts of the fun, not just comic relief. As the movie progresses, we can’t help but wonder why Daniel would be so enthralled with Audrey, who, through no fault of Moore’s, is written as a fragile, sheltered neurotic nutcase. What passes for comedy is shrill histrionics; what is presented as romance is only slightly less crass.

—Laura Leon

I See Dead Box-Office Cashiers

Directed by Nick Hamm

Noooo, don’t go there . . . is an appropriate response to a horror flick, but for Godsend, a thriller about medical science, that audiences may find themselves hunched down in their seats in dread has nothing to do with suspense or frightfulness. It has everything to do with the film’s astoundingly predictable twist: You never know what’s lurking in the petri dish. As these murkily stylish, empty-headed kinds of things tend to do, Godsend starts off promisingly, with a subdued, Shyamalan-like tone and intimations of grief-stricken hubris. Halfway through, Godsend will have viewers screaming all right—for a refund.

The evening before Adam Duncan’s 8th birthday, his loving parents Jessie (Rebecca Romijin-Stamos) and Paul (Greg Kinnear) have a party for him. Director Nick Hamm establishes a dank atmosphere that’s light on dialogue and heavy on clever camera work: As Paul hurries home on this dark and rainy night, a shot of umbrella tops dissolves into the balloons of Adam’s dimly-lit birthday party. (This is either a portent of doom, or an indication that Duncans use only 40-watt bulbs.) The next day, Adam (Cameron Bright) is killed in the street while his mother watches in horror.

Just as the Duncans are making funeral arrangements, brilliant fertility doctor Richard Wells (Robert De Niro) shows up to make a hard sales pitch. He wants the devastated couple to sign up for a clone of their dead child. Having made millions from his genetic research, Wells is ready to take his in-vitro procedures an illegal step further. After some initial, cheaply tear-jerking reluctance, the Duncans agree, and nine months later, Adam II arrives. Eight bland years go by before the new Adam starts exhibiting bizarre symptoms, creeping out his dad with cryptic warnings such as “Something bad is going to happen” and hanging out in an old toolshed. Although Jessie admits she’s always had a feeling they wouldn’t get away with it, the couple is maddeningly slow to catch on that any child as robotic as Adam must have something wrong with him. Godsend, however, is maddeningly slow for no reason other than it has nowhere to go. And yet on and on it goes anyway. The only mystery is how the film could’ve missed all the mind-bending elements that can be derived from recent news stories on human cloning.

Hamm fills the downtime with silly jolts and ridiculous red herrings until a climactic fire-in-the-old-spooky-church scene. (You play God, you burn in hell. Duh.) But that’s not the end, or even close to it. No, the actual ending is so lame, it’s as though the screenwriter couldn’t be bothered to write one, and so the director simply stopped filming when even he got bored. You have to wonder how they got away with it.

—Ann Morrow

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