|John Tucker Must Die (2006)
Starring: Sophia Bush, Ashanti, Arielle Kebbel, Jesse Metcalfe, Brittany Snow, Penn Badgley, Jenny McCarthy
Director: Betty Thomas
“John Tucker Must Die” was well on its way to becoming the next great black comedy, but then something unexpected and unfortunate happened: it found its heart. Usually, movies benefit from having heart, but here, it strangely feels like a sellout. In fairness to all concerned, I’m not sure exactly how you fix it in such a way that everyone gets what they deserve and also comes out of it all relatively unscathed. Much like the great movie “Election,” you find yourself rooting for everyone, which makes justice a difficult thing to dispense. Until that time for justice comes, though, the movie is an absolute blast, which makes the ending disappointing, though not unforgivable.
The title character in question (Jesse Metcalfe, a.k.a. the lawn boy on “Desperate Housewives”) is the most popular guy in school. Captain of the basketball team and effortlessly charming, women are putty in his hands, and at the moment there are three very different pieces of putty in his hands: head cheerleader Heather (Ashanti), staunch vegan, earth-girl-is-easy Beth (Sophia Bush), and overachieving brainiac Carrie (Arielle Kebbel). The new girl at school, Kate (Brittany Snow), witnesses John’s shenanigans anonymously, and through a mishap in gym class, where all three girlfriends learn the truth, Kate suggests that they shouldn’t get mad, but get even. At first, getting even means a few potshots at his reputation, but after John comes out unscathed each time, they hatch a new plan: get John to fall in love with Kate, so she can break his heart. Not an easy task for anyone, but especially hard for someone like Kate, who has little to no dating experience to her name. To make matters worse, the person the real Kate feels most comfortable around is John’s brother Scott (Penn Badgley), but she can’t tell Scott that she’s setting his older brother up for a big, big fall.
There is a hint of Shakespearean disguise/bait-and-switch at work here, though the Bard’s comedies surely never contained a moment that inspired the men in the movie to sport whale tails, and thank heaven for that (the less you know, the better). Jeff Lowell’s script, despite its sappier-than-necessary ending, has some great, pointed one-liners without dating itself like a Kevin Williamson screenplay (though my wife tells me the clothes will date the movie on the dialogue’s behalf). Metcalfe has the easiest part here; all he has to do is be a smoove, macho stud, with the occasional embarrassing moment. The three-headed hydra of spite plays their parts as written, though Kebbel has the best comedic – and acting – chops of the three. But the movie lives and dies on the shoulders of Snow, who absolutely nails the role of Kate, the inexperienced and jaded pessimist but secretly hopeful romantic.
Your wife/girlfriend/mistress is going to beg that you take her to see “John Tucker Must Die” instead of “Miami Vice,” and while we cannot yet comment one way or the other on the quality of “Vice” (its screening took place the day after this review was written), you would be very, very wise to “let her have her way” this time. Despite its less than stellar ending, “Tucker” is funny, smart, it makes a marked example of that whole Hell-hath-no-fury thing, and it’s an hour shorter than “Vice.” Oh, and the four female leads are gorgeous. Any questions?
Death to the double-sided DVD! Seriously, there is no reason why the full screen version of the movie (both in theatrical and unrated form) and half the extras should be on one side of the disc, while the wisescreen version and the rest of the extras should be on the other. All of this could have fit rather comfortably on one side, we’re sure of it. Also, the phrase ‘deleted scenes’ has never been used so literally, as there are two, count ‘em two deleted scenes, which have a total run time of about a minute. The featurettes are cute, but inessential. Director Betty Thomas also contributes an audio commentary.