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The Clique and the Dead

By Stephen Hunter
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
Sexual innuendo, nudity, violence, cynicism, nihilism and young people in expensive cars
"Jawbreaker" wants so hard to be bad it forgets to be good.

A mordant, black teen-comedy, it follows three super-cool California teenage girls as they make what could be the social faux pas of their lives: They kill a friend.

Omigod and, like, what are we goingtodo, you know, I mean, it's like, one second she's here and the next second she's got this, you know, jawbreaker stuck in her throat like she's swallowed a globe and her eyes are all, like, eight-ball, and omigod!

They decide to disguise the homicide (it sprang out of an ill-advised practical joke) as a murder-rape but as they fiddle with the evidence, they are spotted by Reagan High School's uncoolest being. It would seem that Fern Mayo (Judy Evans Greer) is female, but at first, confirmation is somewhat difficult. Once her gender is firmly established, the three rhymes-with-riches (Rose McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart and Julie Benz) make her an offer: In exchange for her silence, they will fulfill her dreams. They will make her cool. Who could resist?

But in the time-honored tradition of monster movies (which this is), their own creation turns on them. It's alive! It must be destroyed!

The premise is a promise that's never kept. The longer the film goes on, the worse it gets and it never achieves the delirious cynical hilarity of its first 20 or so minutes. It breaks down in too much side-changing as the various alliances form and reform. Gayheart is exiled from the gang of four; ultimately Greer is exiled, which brings it down to a gang of two; and then Greer and Gayheart unify with a drama boy to form a new gang of three to fight the old gang of three. It's more politically complicated than Politburo maneuverings in 1954!

But Rose, by any other name, would be as sour. I speak of Rose McGowan, who plays Courtney Shayne, at once the most beautiful, the most regal, the most poised, the most intelligent, the most dangerous of the three queens. McGowan has screen presence and an ice-princess hauteur that cannot be invented, else the camera would penetrate them. Her serene psychopathology is the movie's most consistent pleasure, and to see her is to both love and fear her.

One other note. The rock star Marilyn Manson appears in the film and I don't want to start any rumors, but I believe this person is actually a man. Remember, you read it here first.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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