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'Jawbreaker': 'Heathers' Did it Better

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 1999

  Movie Critic

Julie Benz, Rebecca Gayheart and Rose McGowan star in "Jawbreaker." (Columbia TriStar)

Sam Raimi
Rose McGowan;
Rebecca Gayheart;
Julie Benz;
Judy Greer;
Carol Kane;
Pam Grier;
P.J. Soles;
Jeff Conaway;
Chad Christ;
William Katt
Running Time:
1 hour, 27 minutes
Contains violence, macabre material, sexual situations and obscenity
In Darren Stein's "Jawbreaker," the nasties are back. I refer to those high school princesses whose stiletto heels have trod on the sensibilities of all geeks, freaks and lowlifes in such comedy/horror flicks as "Carrie," "Heathers," "Clueless" and "Wild Things."

But, in "Jawbreaker" at least, the hissable beauties seem to have lost their girl power. Stein, who grew up on the back-stabbing fantasies of John Hughes, Wes Craven and Brian DePalma over the last 20 years, pays too direct a tribute to this socially dysfunctional genre. He creates four (or five) fearsome princesses, who terrorize their fellow students with all the familiar tics and tricks, but he brings nothing new to the table.

Meet "the Flawless Four," Reagan High School's hottest, most exclusive girl clique. Courtney (Rose McGowan), the group's nasty leader, knows every bitch rule in the book, from never eat in the school dining hall to destroy any rose that's sent to you – along with the sender.

Her slavish followers are Marcie Fox or "Foxy" (Julie Benz), Courtney's inexhaustible suckup; Julie (Rebecca Gayheart), who's unfortunately burdened with a conscience; and Liz (Charlotte Roldan), the nicest member of all who gets the worst birthday surprise of her life.

On the morning she turns 17, Liz is awakened by masked intruders (her three friends in disguise) who truss her, shove a jawbreaker into her mouth, gag her and toss her into the trunk of their car. But when they pull up to the restaurant, where they plan to treat Liz to birthday pancakes, they find the group has dwindled down to three. It seems poor Liz didn't chew before she swallowed.

Stuck with a stiff, Courtney – who did the jawbreaker deed – takes charge. To avoid detection, they return Liz to her bedroom, intending to stage a rape scene. But Fern Mayo (Judy Evans Greer), a school geek, arrives in the wrong place at the wrong time and Courtney has a witness problem.

Thinking quickly, Courtney invites Fern into the clique in exchange for her silence. This means a major makeover that transforms plain old Fern into va-va-"Vylette." And for Julie, who expresses her horror at the murder coverup, it means social oblivion. When a tough cop (Pam Grier who, quite frankly, is the best-looking woman in the movie) starts asking questions, things get very complicated. But Courtney has everything under control.

Like a few too many of his generation, Stein uses music incessantly to convey the emotion of a shot. "Let the Good Times Roll" blares ironically over the soundtrack, as the clique lugs Liz's battered corpse back up the stairs to her bedroom. And Stein's favorite visual is a recurring, slow-motion shot of les gals strutting their stuff down the school corridor – to rock music, of course.

Language, such an important part of this subgenre, is rarely used. Remember such choice phrases as "What is your damage?" in "Heathers"? Here, the wittiest thing we hear is Courtney telling her followers to "remember that everything is peachy [expletive] keen."

Got a real way with words there, Courtney. Unfortunately, "Jawbreaker" fails to answer the unspoken question it raises: Why sit through a lesser imitation, when you could just rent "Heathers" and those other movies for a far more enjoyable time? Drop-dead bitchery? Been there, done that.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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