Weekly Wire
Salt Lake City Weekly Teen Pap

By Greg Beacham

FEBRUARY 1, 1999:  Because John Hughes made teen comedies look so easy and effortless, other writers and directors have assumed for 15 years that they could master the genre as well. Sometimes, they come up with masterpieces like Heathers. Other times, they come up with She's All That.

It's eight weeks before graduation, and All-American studentbody president Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr.) has just been dumped by his übervixen girlfriend, Taylor Vaughan (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe), for a cast member on The Real World. Instead of getting mad, Zack gets clever: He bets his friend Dean (Paul Walker) that he can turn any girl in school into the prom queen.

Dean decides Zack's project will be Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook), a geeky-because-we're-told-she-is artist who works at a gyro house and has a wacky father (Kevin Pollak) who cleans pools. Zack starts the mack on Laney, who resists even though Zack goes to her performance art show, takes her to the beach to play volleyball and forces several kids to clean her family's house (those old schemes).

Eventually, Laney realizes Zack is really hot and stuff, and she comes out of her industrial-strength shell. Then, because he's still trying to win the bet, Zack nominates Laney for the prom queen election against Taylor. Oh, irony!

It's not that this film is horrible. It's just not good enough to make adults interested in a movie about 17-year-olds. Saying it's a teen movie intended for teenagers doesn't cut it artistically: Teens will go to any movie with other hot teens in it. If it's not compelling for adults as well, you're wasting everyone's time.

When you stand back and look, it's impossible to take She's All That seriously for one reason: The ugly duckling isn't. Laney is really hot, even early in the film when she's wearing clunky glasses and overalls. Every single guy (or girl) in the audio-visual club would be lining up to carry her paintbrushes home.

But casting a beautiful woman as a cow is nothing new in Hollywood. The Truth About Cats and Dogs, While You Were Sleeping, Frankie and Johnny: We're supposed to believe these women have trouble finding men? We may pay $8 for 35 cents of popcorn, but we're not that dumb.

And while we're on the subject of movies indirectly demeaning to women, how many films are going to be made about women as the subject of a bet before filmmakers have to get licensed by the Nevada State Gaming Commission? Talk about your tired plot devices: This one makes petty thieves planning a heist look like experimental theater. There should be a screenwriters' rule: If George Bernard Shaw wrote about it, you can't.

Robert Iscove, a longtime television director making his feature debut, has no clue how to maintain a consistent comic tone in the film. Much of the dialogue is cramp-inducing bad (Zack to Laney: "I mean, I know the world has its problems, but would it kill you to just smile once in a while?"), and the performances are almost uniformly bland, especially from the two leads, who seem more interested in lining up sitcom deals than actually emoting or something.

The manically inconsistent nature of the film has all the earmarks of a studio hack job, but She's All That was released by Miramax, a company known for giving its filmmakers a long leash. So maybe Iscove just didn't realize that comedic tones were zipping through his film like skydivers with stuck chutes.

She's All That is not without its bright points. The permanently high Matthew Lillard (Scream) is a gas as Brock Hudson, the Real-Worlder for whom Taylor leaves Zack. Brock is a preening Puck-like poseur, and his deliberately wacky dance number late in the film is Alvin Ailey on acid.

And for some unexplained reason, teen R&B star Usher makes a cameo appearance in the film as a deejay. He also showed up for about three scenes in The Faculty. This guy is turning into the Zelig of teen melodrama.

She's All That smells like teen pap. It's mostly inoffensive, it's completely unimaginative and it's big-time predictable. The film is sometimes clever, but for the most part, you'd be better off at home, popping zits.


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