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July 28, 2006 | Comments ()


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Dustin Rowles Must Die!

John Tucker Must Die / Dustin Rowles

Film Reviews | July 28, 2006 | Comments ()


Friday Afternoon, 3:36 p.m.: Dustin Rowles slinks back in his leather office chair and stares forlornly at the ceiling. Though he is unabashedly liberal, though he is a proponent of strict gun-control laws, on his way home from the theater this afternoon, he found a gun show in the outskirts of Ithaca and circumvented the waiting period, purchasing a small, but powerful, handgun — desperate times call for desperate blah blah blah. All six chambers are filled; there will be no Russian roulette this afternoon. Agony of this magnitude can’t be left to chance. He leans forward, grabs the pistol, and relaxes in his chair again, weighing his options before ultimately concluding that Hollywood has finally hit rock-bottom — there is no downward left to its spiral. A threesome-revenge flick without the slightest redemptive value whose only selling point is two girls kissing can only mean that the studio system has finally bottomed out. Living, at this point, is kind of pointless.

A suicide note is left on Pajiba.

Dear Readers —

Yeah, yeah. I know. A movie review doubling as suicide letter — kind of lame. But, c’mon: I just sat through John Tucker Must Die and the movie title shamelessly lends itself to a gratuitously meta-approach to film criticism. I’m trying to subvert the medium here; sometimes it works, and sometimes you just come off sounding like a pretentious dick trying to get a little too cute and self-referential with your reviews — think of it as my own Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, if you will. But, really, the last thing I want to do is honor John Tucker with a vitriolic diatribe that might give you folks a reason to watch it, if only for its nonexistent campy so-bad-it’s- good qualities. Indeed, the only thing I want anyone to remember about John Tucker Must Die is that it drove a movie critic to self-annihilation and, if that happens to inspire a “train-wreck-can’t-look-away ” reason to go see it, there’s not a lot I can do about it with a bullet lodged in my cranium.

So, where was I? Ah yes — offing myself. Why? Well, as they say: The proof is in the pudding, only in John Tucker Must Die the pudding is that rank half-opened prepackaged chocolate Jell-O you find in the back of your refrigerator six months after its expiration date, once that top layer of skin has all but taken over the Jell-O mold, threatening to swallow the adjacent jar of pickle juice you keep meaning to toss out. No, really, John Tucker is that bad. Somehow, the director, Betty Thomas (Dr. Doolittle), has found a way to mine a bad “Three’s Company” episode, turn it into a full-length movie, and completely extract Jack Tripper’s charming brand of misogyny and trade it in for a vapid brand of female (dis)empowerment strong enough to offend even Ann Coulter, if only she had a soul. It’s really nothing more than a tweeny skin-flick, only all the naughty bits are covered up, and the act of females kissing is treated like some goddamn erotic-circus act that you’re only allowed to see if you turn in all your hard-earned ski-ball doubloons. It’s one long exploitative cock-tease; the goods are dangled, but the proverbial woman-hating carrot exists on an unreachable plane that only na├»ve 11-year-olds and pre-rumspringa Amish folks might find scintillating.

And this is what we have: John Tucker Must Die (preferably in a slow, painful, Gitmo kind of way) is set in one of those generic Hughesian high schools where cliques are readily defined and levels of attractiveness are easily discernible. However, the charm of Sixteen Candles, the “fuck you to the man” of Breakfast Club, and the rebelliousness of Heathers are all stripped away, leaving — at its core — a giant, plasticene, erect superjock, John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe). He’s the captain of the basketball team, a beefcake Adonis, a Duke of Wonder who’s dating the three best-looking girls in high school — that is, until some genetic experiment goes awry and the three girls grow a second brain cell, which they must share amongst themselves. With this extra boost of brainpower (that glows under a phosphorescent lamp), the head cheerleader (Ashanti), the vegan (Sophia Bush), and the captain of the yearbook (Arrielle Kebbel) discover that (gasp!) they’ve been swapping STDs with the same man. Whatever will they do?

A plan is hatched. They enlist the estrogenic powers of Kate’s (Brittany Snow) bikini line, which they use as a penile trap in their triple-team adolescent Kill Bill plot. They will rid John Tucker of his self-esteem, render him impotent, denude his confidence, leaving him a fetal ball of Anthony Michael Halldom. They make him the picture boy for Herpes, they put him on public display in a thong, and they advertise his subservience to Kate to the entire school. Oh, but does the plan backfire, revealing that in the anti-Betty Friedan world of studio-manufactured high schools, even a woman scorned doesn’t have the wits to outsmart the guy with the beautiful coif.

But it’s not just the horridness of John Tucker Must Die’s plotline that has driven me to a Kurt Cobain demise; there are larger, more offensive issues at play here. First and foremost are song choices in John Tucker, most noticeably Elvis Costello, and remakes of Cyndi Lauper, Paul Simon, and Debbie Harry songs. Some of these tunes may have been the pop du jour of our predecessors, but it was our generation that spent the last 20 years refining them and making them our own. In 2006, however, some asshole comes along and steals our hard-fought cultural capital and passes it off as cool for 17-year-olds by getting some shitty Blink-182-wannabe band to cover them. Do you have any idea how much pop bureaucracy we had to wade through to elevate songs like these above the arsenal of Vanilla Ice, NKOTB, A-Ha, Young MC, C & C Music Factory, et. al. that the music industry has been shoving down our throats for the better part of our lives? And a generation with absolutely nothing to define them besides a cell phone that ties their goddamn shoes and iPods that remove their corns comes along with some fifth-generation Green-Day punk bullshit and taints everything we worked for by lumping Elvis Costello and Paul Simon with The All-American Rejects and Sum 41. It’s infuriating.

And what of the high-school comedy genre? We give you Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Pump Up the Volume, and the collective works of John Hughes — the perfect templates. And what do you do with it? John Tucker Must Die?! C’mon! You’ve given us exactly one movie (Mean Girls) that came even close to living up its predecessors, and everything else seems to be inspired by fucking Can’t Hardly Wait. What was it about Jennifer Love Hewitt’s bosom and a bad Barry Manilow song that made an Ethan Embry movie a cultural touchstone? The least you could do is steal from Angus, which had a touch of pathos and the unnattractive fat kid was actually unnattractive.

This is why a bullet to the temple seems so appealing to me right now.

What’s worse? I’ll tell you. Nobody even freakin’ dies in John Tucker Must Die. What does it say about a movie when it can’t even deliver on its title? When, instead of finding Jesse Metcalfe splayed out on the roof of a car after a 20-story drop, we get a lame, feel-good ending?

And, so it is in the spirit of sharing that, to the chagrin of many, I must offer you another misleading twist to the title of this review, offering up my own treacly preposterousness.

Friday Afternoon. 3:37 p.m.: Dustin Rowles lies back in his chair once again, pulling the pistol up to his temple. He cocks the hammer and closes his eye, awaiting his final destination. But before he can muster the courage to pull the trigger, he hears a familiar voice blaring from the television. It rattles around in his head: “Save me, Jesus. Save me, Tom Cruise.” It is the calming voice of Will Ferrell, reminding him that there are only seven days left until Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Perhaps, just perhaps, there is reason to go on.

Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He was not killed in the writing of this review.


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