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By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 14, 1989


Michael Lehmann
Winona Ryder;
Christian Slater;
Kim Walker;
Shannen Doherty;
Lisanne Falk
Under 17 restricted

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Cautionary note: "Heathers," a stiletto-sharp comedy about getting ahead in high school at any price -- even murder -- makes insidious jokes about teenage suicide and pokes fun at jocks, princesses, geeks, homosexuals and fat people.

But it also happens to be funny, wickedly funny. In fact, "Heathers" may be the nastiest, cruelest fun you can have without actually having to study law or gird leather products. If movies were food, "Heathers" would be a cynic's chocolate binge.

Westerburg High, in Sherwood, Ohio, is one psycho-tussle of a school, in which the meek don't inherit the earth as much as get their faces rubbed in it. The ones doing all the rubbing are three beautiful dry-ice Priestesses of Put-down, all named Heather -- and surnamed Chandler (Kim Walker), Duke (Shannen Doherty) and McNamara (Lisanne Falk). Their idea of a good time is to slay with sarcasm, ruin reputations and generally assert dominance over the dweeb masses.

But their privileged flunkie Veronica (Winona Ryder), tired of performing the Heathers' dirty deeds for them and genuinely heartsick at the way people have been treating each other, links up with mysterious, squinty-eyed newcomer Jason Dean (Christian Slater) and turns the tables.

"I don't like my friends," complains Veronica. "Yeah," says Jason, who talks like a young Jack Nicholson with a little "Omen"-child menace thrown in. "I don't really like your friends either."

Veronica's a bitch-warfare veteran and Jason has picked up a thing or two about firearms, "suicide"-rigging and building detonation. They make a lethal team -- too lethal a team, in fact. It's better not to reveal who buys the farm, but Westerburg soon becomes the teenage-suicide capital of America.

Meanwhile, you can gorge on nihilistic tidbits, sarcastic nibbles and other cruel finger food, such as "Did you have a brain tumor for breakfast?"

The brutal bacchanalia continues. Says a dippy, feelings-sharing teacher to a prospective suicide: "We should talk. Whether or not to kill yourself is one of the most important decisions a teenager can make." Asked what she's doing after the funeral (of Victim No. 1), Veronica says, "I don't know. Mourning. Maybe watch some TV."

Actually, Veronica is the movie's sole conscience. She only wanted to make this school "a nice place." But the body count is growing, and Jason's getting stranger. Underneath the jokes, director Michael Lehmann and screenwriter Daniel Waters have produced a message about the way we treat each other, not only in high school but in the world. But let's face it, the message is an excuse for us to enjoy the social art of killing without getting caught in the crossfire. And that's murder most sweet.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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