John Tucker Must Die

John Tucker Must Die (2006)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Jesse Metcalfe, Brittany Snow, Ashanti, Sophia Bush, Arielle Kebbel, Jenny McCarthy
Extras: Director and Editor Commentary, Deleted Scenes, Featurettes, Music Video, Trailer

Oh, how the mighty teen comedy has fallen! Where is John Hughes when you need him? Former actress Betty Thomas (who directed the funny and surprisingly sweet "Private Parts" and the awful "I Spy" and semi-awful "Doctor Dolittle"), takes a stab at the teen film genre with some spotty results. Unlike fellow female auteur Amy Heckerling, who made the seminal "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" and "Clueless," Thomas finds herself struggling with substandard material. This material calls itself "John Tucker Must Die" and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has unleashed it in an extended cut DVD.

Kate (Brittany Snow) is the lonely and awkward new girl at Forest Hills High School who quickly finds herself entranced by the magnetic and popular John Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe). A legendary basketball player at the school (who is also known for his off-the-court prowess with the ladies), John Tucker is somebody every girl wants to be with and every guy wants to be. During a fateful game of volleyball in gym class (dubbed "Black Tuesday" by Kate), it soon comes to light that Tucker has been fooling around with three girls at the same time. These include head cheerleader Heather (Ashanti), the ambitious and supposedly smart Carrie (Arielle Kebbel) and Beth (Sophia Bush), the vegan teen activist. These three walking clichés soon get in a long, drawn-out fight involving slapping and airborne volleyballs, with the virtually invisible Kate getting caught in the middle. This leads to everyone getting a stint in detention, at which point Kate suggests to the bickering girls that they take revenge on Tucker. What follows is a series of wacky hijinks designed to dethrone Tucker from his high school kingdom. Problems occur when each plan to embarrass him severely backfires and it soon becomes evident that a different approach will have to be taken. So, it's decided that the girls will transform Kate into a super-hot sexpot cheerleader, hoping that Tucker will take the bait and fall head over heels for her. Once he's hooked, the plan is for Kate to break his heart, giving the two-timer a taste of his own medicine. Things get complicated though, when Tucker begins to drop his womanizing ways and Kate finds herself falling for him.

"John Tucker Must Die" is another dismal entry into the rapidly devolving world of teen comedies. In between bouts of tired slapstick, predictable gags and witless dialogue, it's disheartening to find the film hiding behind the façade of female empowerment, especially since it portrays every female character as a raving moron. I'm guessing that the film is targeted towards teenage girls (mainly because it features about fifty shots of star Jesse Metcalfe with his shirt off, although it also has a girl-on-girl kissing scene and showcases Brittany Snow in revealing lingerie), which is an appalling conceit, given that it makes teenage girls look catty, superficial, emotionally volatile and clueless when it comes to relationships and feelings. The whole film is devoted to the condemnation of John Tucker, yet the girls he's cheating on repeatedly fight over him, somehow forgetting that he's the villain in their lives. As such, there's no consistency in their motivations. Speaking of inconsistency, the tone of the film continually changes, from an "Afterschool Special" type of drama (highlighted by Jenny McCarthy's role as Kate's Mom, who ironically gives the most human and intelligent portrayal in the film) to a hyper-realistic take on high school life, to a bizarre, fanciful tone that stretches credibility to its breaking point (these tend to occur when Tucker finds himself in precarious situations). Maybe this isn't such a bad thing, since the only laugh the film produced out of me was one of these out-of-left-field absurd divergences.

I was ready to give the film a chance, especially after seeing the name of the movie. Unfortunately, "John Tucker Must Die" is an incredibly misleading title (a more apt title would have been "John Tucker Must Be Taught A Lesson Through Public Humiliation"). Hoping to find a scathing dark comedy along the lines of "Heathers," I instead got a generic teen comedy that appeared to be written by committee. It continually fails to generate any kind of momentum, instead relying on the slightest of tweaks to formulas that were better utilized in films like "Mean Girls" and "She's All That" (yes, even "She's All That"). "John Tucker Must Die" makes empty threats, never seeing through the rules it establishes, especially in regards to its characters. Let me put it this way, the climax of the film involves an elaborate food fight which somehow serves as a cathartic experience that washes away everyone's problems. One minute, the world is crashing down and the next minute (after the food fight), everything is copasetic. Wow, what a cop-out. Man, if I knew in high school that I could cleanse everything by throwing fistfuls of cake at people, I would have eaten in the cafeteria more often. Anyway, the whole thing comes off as lazy, as though the writer tried to make everyone happy, unable to make a bold enough decision that would have been more in line with the characters and their somewhat spotty motivations. Too bad I couldn't opt for detention instead of watching this unfunny cartoon.

This cinematic slice of heaven comes courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Another flipper-disc release, one side contains the anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1 version of the film, while the other side contains the Full Screen 1.33:1 version. Also, it should be noted that each side features the Theatrical Cut and an Extended Cut of the film. Aside from the content, I have no qualms with the transfer. Colors are reproduced well, with primary colors and hues coming across as rich and vibrant, with no instances of bleeding. Likewise, skin tones never suffer from being overly orange and appear even and natural. Edge enhancement is not an issue and the clarity of the images is optimal, with fine detail apparent. There were no problems with compression artifacts, grain or speckles. Overall, it's a stellar presentation.

Sound is provided with a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround mix and with Spanish and French 2.0 Dolby Digital Surround tracks. Since this is a primarily dialogue driven film, there's not too much in terms of atmosphere or immersive detail. With that said, the vocals appear clear and distinct, devoid of hiss and distortion. As is the case with all teen films, the soundtrack music plays a significant part of the proceedings. Veering from hip-hop to emo to straight-up pop, the music is suitably energetic and tends to infuse the scenes with some much needed vigor. It never gets too aggressive, so it won't shake anyone's foundation. Overall, it's a conservative mix that doesn't disappoint. Subtitles come in English and Spanish.

Both sides of the double-sided disc contain "Commentary by Director Betty Thomas and Editor Matthew Friedman." In this, both share anecdotes about the cast and crew (with Betty Thomas explaining the flaw that leaves her incapable of remembering the names of people in the cast) and appear laid-back in their conversations. It's not the most exciting commentary I've ever heard, but some of the technical details are interesting. Continuity mistakes are pointed out, as are editing tricks that make different actions appear seamless. Thomas, at one point, makes the statement that she thinks the film is "The First Wives Club" for teenagers. She also points out that there is hardly any material that didn't make it into the film, which might explain the dearth of deleted scenes that accompany the Full Screen side of the disc. There's quite a bit of praise thrown around for all involved and nothing too earth-shattering is divulged, but if you're a fan of the film you might find something in this track to your liking.

The Widescreen side of the disc contains these Special Features:

The "Grrrl Power" featurette, which includes interviews with the cast and crew. Much praise is heaped on helmer Betty Thomas, with a significant amount of time devoted to Thomas's proclivity for nicknaming various cast members. Thankfully, this featurette is short.

Next is "Cutting Class With Jesse Metcalfe," a featurette that has Metcalfe giving us a tour of the high school set. This concludes with a brief tour of his trailer. Thankfully, this featurette is over quickly.

Finally, we have the "Kodiak Yearbook" featurette. For reasons unknown, this extra's volume control was out of whack. It nearly blew my head off. Anyway, this has the cast members talking about their own high school experiences. Probably the most entertaining of the special features, it's nonetheless as pointless as the previous ones.

Moving onto the Full Screen side of the film, we have these Special Features:

Two "Deleted Scenes" entitled "Emotion Is In," and "Catch of the Day," both with optional commentary by Director Betty Thomas. It's easy to see why these scenes were deleted from the final cut, since they are superfluous to say the least. In fact, I don't even know why they are included on this DVD. Betty Thomas doesn't really add any insight in her commentaries, other than the revelation that she didn't know what the Chinese fishermen were saying in the "Catch of the Day" sequence.

Then we have the "On The Rebound" featurette. This is a brief examination of actor Jesse Metcalfe's basketball talent and his skill at dunking the ball while bouncing off a trampoline. We also learn that his character was originally going to have his head shaved by the girls, but instead it was decided to have him parade around in a thong, much to the delight of teen girls everywhere. Thankfully, this is brief.

Next up is the "John Tucker Must Die Dating Quiz." Much like the film itself, this is another misleading title. The "Quiz" doesn't involve pushing any buttons on the remote control; it's just a series of lame questions that play over clips of the movie. If memory serves me right, I'm pretty sure these were used as television promos for the film. So, if you recall the television spots, then you've already seen this feature.

Then there is a "Live Performance by People in Planes" who performs the song "Instantly Gratified."

After this we have a "Soundtrack Promo Spot" and a "Theatrical Trailer" that gives away every plot point of the film, thus negating the need to watch the full version.

"John Tucker Must Die" is another in a long line of recent teen comedies to seriously underwhelm. Lacking any bite or a personality of its own, the film manages to rehash plot points and scenarios from other films, creating an empty world overrun with clichés. An undercooked revenge tale that unsuccessfully tries to flaunt its faulty female empowerment ideals, "John Tucker Must Die" is an insulting piece of fluff that should be ignored. Honestly, you'll get more entertainment value from scratching your fingernails across a chalkboard. Class is dismissed!