Diablo Cody’s ‘Body’ Needs a Soul

Takes “Juno’s” quirkiness in a morbid direction, but lacks the specific blend of gruesome fun.

 "Habeus Corpus!" shouts the headline of local Toronto publication Eye Weekly. "Diablo Cody unleashes ‘Jennifer’s Body’ at TIFF.’"

The histrionics make sense, it seems, because Cody’s screenplays are predicated on embellishment. However, unlike "Juno" — the runaway success that premiered at TIFF in 2007 before winning an Oscar for the first-time screenwriter — "Jennifer’s Body" is also predicated on derivation.

The movie, which opened TIFF’s "Midnight Madness" section Thursday night, has plenty of great ideas but only succeeds as a trite imitation B-movie. It stars Megan Fox (shown left as she arrived to a news conference on Friday) as a slutty teenager kidnapped by a couple of satanic rockers and morphed into a demon.

After developing a taste for human blood, Jennifer begins preying on the helpless teenage boys who blindly fall prey to her seduction. Her troubled pal Needy (Amanda Seyfried) desperately tries to stop her. The description alone practically screams "female empowerment fantasy."

It’s a great role for Fox, whose cunning sexual prowess under media scrutiny has earned her this type of bold material. But the premise works better than the execution. Karyn Kusama ("Girlfight") directs Cody’s screenplay as a straightforward horror story, but the rampant Cody-isms sprinkled throughout the narrative continually ruin the basic level of continuity these movies need to deliver thrills as entertainment. Honestly, who blurts out "Cheese and fries!" when there’s a creepy knock at the door late at night?

The problem, then, lies less with Kusama’s direction (which remains flashy and competent enough to keep things moving along) than its mismatch with Cody’s writing style. Her tendency toward gleeful irreverence and facile one-liners turned "Juno" into a pleasant ride of high school nostalgia and bittersweetness. "Jennifer’s Body" takes that quirkiness in a morbid direction, but lacks the specific blend of gruesome fun and spot-on observations that made its teenage witchcraft forebears so entertaining.

Movies like "Charmed" and "The Craft" tapped into the lure of teenage cliques, emerging feminine prowess and the daunting swan song of adolescence. Intending to revitalize these themes, "Jennifer’s Body" inadvertently satirizes them.