Jawbreaker’s teen queens are more hard than sweet, candy-colored bitch goddesses for whom popularity equals power. Just watch Courtney (Rose McGowan), Julie (Rebecca Gayheart), Marcie (Julie Benz) and Liz (Charlotte Roldan) strut down the hallways of Reagan High in synchronized slow motion, and their stature is unmistakable. But so is the eerie sense of déjà vu, because these girls don’t actually exist in high school, only high school movies.

Writer-director Darren Stein has created the highly stylized world of Jawbreaker as one part spoof, two parts loving homage to teen flicks of the last quarter-decade. And in the tradition of high school as horror show, he begins the film with an adolescent prank gone terribly awry.

On the morning of her 17th birthday, Liz Purr’s three best friends proceed to terrorize her with a mock kidnapping. Bound, gagged and tossed into the trunk of a convertible, Liz chokes to death on a jawbreaker Courtney had whimsically tossed into her mouth to keep her from screaming.

The trio’s individual reactions to Liz’s death show their true natures: Courtney, the alpha wolf, bares her fangs and leads the pack; Marcie follows orders like a good soldier; but Julie, to the surprise of her friends – and perhaps herself – develops a conscience. Particularly when meek wallflower Fern (Judy Evans Greer) inadvertently stumbles onto their plot to divert police attention, and Courtney makes her an offer even Faust couldn’t refuse: Keep your mouth shut and we will make you popular.

At its best, Jawbreaker is nasty fun, dissecting the cruel social Darwinism that high school epitomizes. Stein’s dialogue is crisp and he stages some terrific scenes, especially those featuring a full-throttle Rose McGowan. But the film is marred by editing and continuity problems, and the thin story becomes overburdened when it tries to incorporate a police investigation – although ultracool Pam Grier shows these girls just how far they still have to go.

Darren Stein harvested parts of Carrie, Heathers and the oeuvre of John Hughes to create this monster, which sometimes wobbles on impossibly high heels, but mostly stands tall.

Serena Donadoni writes about film for the Metro Times. E-mail her at letters@metrotimes.com.

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