Like some sketch-comedy Frankenstein monster made from the cutting-room entrails of "Clueless," "The Opposite of Sex," "To Die For," "Election" and "Heathers," the puerile social satire "Pretty Persuasion" is stinging only insomuch as its unsophisticated wit and overwhelming smugness are painful to sit through.
Writer Skander Halim and director Marcos Siega clearly watched all these movies before cranking out this disingenuous dark comedy about a manipulative, 15-year-old private-school tart (Evan Rachel Wood) who accuses a teacher (Ron Livingston) of sexual harassment just to get famous. But they didn't learn a thing from those droll, original pictures about sardonic nuance or creating a feeling of camaraderie towards an unsympathetic anti-heroine.
Wood ("Thirteen"), in a rudimentary role far beneath her proven talent, never shies away from the dangerously sharp edges of Beverly Hills brat Kimberly Joyce, who takes down her two best friends (and fellow accusers), an ambitious TV reporter (Jane Krakowski) and her father's business in her pursuit of her 15 minutes. But there's no wicked delight to be had in her machinations, which are so transparently premeditated that all the other characters in the movie (detectives, judges and lawyers included) have to be certifiable morons in order to advance the plot.
Halim's screenplay is clumsy and crude (to shoehorn a media frenzy into the story, Kimberly "waives her right to anonymity"), and the movie's cheeky, self-satisfied humor is telegraphed and predictable. Siega fades out on the line "These things never go to trial," then immediately fades in on the reporter saying, "So day one of the Roxbury trial begins..."
As a farce, "Pretty Persuasion" fails because the world it depicts bears little resemblance to the realities it aims to lampoon: The teacher is arrested -- during a class -- on nothing more than the girls' accusations, and the tabloid TV journalist answers fan mail on the air during her live news reports. The movie is far more concerned about expediency, which is why we get nonsense lines like, "Her IQ test broke the computer" when Halim wants to convince us that Kimberly is smart (as well as wicked), even though there's scant other evidence to suggest it.
As a character comedy, it's even worse since none of the roles are developed beyond their service to the particular scenes they populate. A young actress named Adi Schnall gets the worst of this as an insultingly stereotypical Muslim girl -- meek and ignorant under her hijab -- who takes heaps of cultural abuse from Kimberly, but keeps hanging around her for no explored reason. (As Kimberly's self-absorbed pig of a father, James Woods does create a vivid caricature of parental irresponsibility, but only by being so ravenously over-the-top it seems as if director Siega kept him chained up and unfed between scenes.)
While the filmmakers fancy "Pretty Persuasion" an acerbic rumination on the rampant egoism, the cult of celebrity and the reckless litigiousness of 21st century American culture, it plays like nothing more than the boorish, unrefined whims of two adolescent armchair pundits.
Run time: 104 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 25th May 2006
Box Office USA: $58.6k
Distributed by: Samuel Goldwyn Films
Production compaines: REN-Mar Studios, Prospect Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 32%
Fresh: 25 Rotten: 52
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Marcos Siega
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood as Kimberly Joyce, Selma Blair as Grace Anderson, David Wagner as Morgan, Brent Goldberg as Rick, Adi Schnall as Randa, Elisabeth Harnois as Brittany, Stark Sands as Troy, Jane Krakowski as Emily Klein, Michael Hitchcock as Headmaster Charles Meyer, Danny Comden as Roger Nicholl, Jaime King as Kathy Joyce, Josh Zuckerman as Josh Horowitz, James Snyder as Dave, Ron Livingston as Percy Anderson, Cody McMains as Kenny, Mike Erwin as Barry
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