Pretty Persuasion

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To paraphrase the supreme teen satire Heathers, the filmmakers of Pretty Persuasion must have had a brain tumor for breakfast. Heathers, with its lampooning of the high school social battlefield, sarcasm and deliciously dark humor, is a masterpiece of a high school movie — and a far cry from the dreck that passes as Pretty Persuasion.

The emotional torture of high schools is as tough as ever — but with the grim addition of school shootings and metal detectors. Perhaps that makes it a perfect time for a Heathers update, but despite billing itself as basically that, Pretty Persuasion is just a lame rip-off. Evan Rachel Wood (Thirteen) plays Kimberly Joyce, a cunning teen who coaxes her friends — the airheaded Brittany (Elisabeth Harnois) and conservative immigrant Randa (Adi Schnall) — to join her in bringing harassment claims against their hated teacher (Ron Livingston).

The ensuing trial incites a media frenzy at their hoity-toity Beverly Hills private school. Kimberly’s devious motives are revealed through flashbacks that show her ruthless use of sex and trust as weapons in her quest for fame and revenge.

This movie so closely aims to be a Heathers sequel that entire scenes are all but lifted from the 1989 classic. Remember the shallow conversations Winona Ryder’s character had with her plastic, uninterested rich family? Kimberly’s dinner table discussions are merely foul-mouthed remakes.

Which brings us to the film’s worst gaffe: The witless script is riddled with stabs at humor that are off-color for the sake of being off-color. Characters make offensive quips about Jews, Muslims, Asians, African-Americans and lesbians with a smugness that suggests it’s OK because this is an independent film and the script is universally offensive. Maybe if any of the remarks were funny, ironic or even remotely satirical, all would be forgiven. But the frequent bursts of racism and homophobia — including one rather repulsive joke about Muslims that gets told twice — come off as simply unfunny and crude.

One would hope all the cruelty would at least culminate in some smart, social commentary or at least some wickedly fun black comedy, but no such luck. For all the shots Pretty Persuasion fires off, not a one hits its mark, and the whole thing is as shallow as, well, a Heather.

 

Showing at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main St., Royal Oak; 248-263-2111).

Clare Pfeiffer Ramsey writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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