Jawbreaker (1999)

In-crowd girlfriends kidnap their too-perfect pal for a bit of birthday fun. Unfortunately, their choice of ball gags – a jawbreaker candy – proves ill-conceived and the girl chokes to death in the trunk of their car. Certain that the news of her death at their hands, however accidental, will result in a serious loss of popularity points, the girls contrive an alternate death scenario. Their ruse would work, were it not for the shrewish classmate who stumbles upon their plot. Faced with the threat of jail and/or detention, the popular girls barter the nerd's silence for the secret to popularity.

Jawbreaker is the update to Heathers for which no one asked. While Rose McGowan rips gleefully into her role as the prime bitch of the group, she's still too old for the role. Fellow "teen" queens Julie Benz and Rebecca Gayheart are too far gone from high school to be convincing either. Much as I love Benz, she was twenty-seven when this pic was made and all the makeup in the world won't help me to believe that she was seventeen.

Worse than the casting is the plot, which has all of the required twists and delays – why exactly does Gayheart's character suddenly decide to come clean after grudgingly keeping the secret for so long? None of the movie is half as clever as it thinks it is, which leaves the viewers with, well, not much. When the film begins to imply that the loss of popularity is worse than the legal and moral implications of manslaughter it gets downright offensive. And I swear to God, someone has got to find a different way to end a high school comedy than with a climactic scene at the prom.

For a movie with such a lackluster story, this is one heckuva great looking picture. Vibrant photography, innovative camera work, and some stunningly photogenic cast members (Gayheart has never looked better) make for some honest-to-goodness eye candy. Given that Amy Vincent was cinematographer on this film and allegedly worked as an uncredited camera operator on Heathers, one wonders what comparisons between the two movies were running through her head as Jawbreaker was in production.

The disc presents the movie in fullscreen and anamorphic widescreen. The sound is in Dolby Digital Surround 5.1 and Digital 2.0. As you would expect for a film only a couple of years old, it looks great. The menu layout is fairly standard, with nothing to set it apart but no annoyances either.

Other than the standard trailer (at least I hope they're becoming standard), there are some production notes and biographies. Writer/director Darren Stein flies solo on the commentary track, which is probably not a coincidence. After a few minutes with this guy, you'll be prepared to leave him by himself too. Stein drones on about the film's production and his vision of what a great high school film should be, and it sounds like everyone is in on the joke but him. Particularly heinous is the bit in which he mentions Pam Grier's role as the police detective, and "someone's" comment that she was better in Jawbreaker than in Jackie Brown. "I hope Quentin Tarantino isn't listening," quips Stein. Don't worry, Darren. I don't think there's much chance of that.

Chris Holland, 2/12/2002