1½ stars (out of four)
"Pretty Persuasion"-Marcos Siega's entry in the teen satire genre, otherwise known as movies like "Heathers"-feels like the smug work of a guy who woke up every morning of the shoot in his platform bed, patted himself on the back in his steam shower and said to no one in particular, "Today I am going to comment cleverly on society, satirize things that are ripe and layer it all with topical issues." Which is funny in a not-so-funny way, since Siega, whose credits include Blink 182 and Hoobastank videos, was attracted to the "Persuasion" script for its "clever commentary on our society" that exposes "several public and private morals that are ripe for satirizing" and because it's "layered with topical issues such as family values, racism, politics, the media, revenge and our society's obsession with celebrity."
Directors say the darndest things. Society here is a ritzy private high school in Beverly Hills, where precocious and popular 15-year-old sexpot Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachel Wood) runs the show, befriending new Palestinian immigrant Randa (Adi Schnall) and blowing air kisses to best girlfriend Brittany (Elisabeth Harnois). Kimberly speaks in quick, hyper-assured, impossibly sophisticated, grammatically correct platitudes all day long-imagine "Dawson's Creek" meets "The McLaughlin Group"-and then goes home to rich dad Hank, a coke-snorting, phone-sexed pig who shuffles around with his privates hanging out, rambling on about the Jews and their secret "Yid code" (James Woods, unhinged).
Kimberly wants to be an actress, which really means that she wants to be famous, and she prepares for her inevitable celebrity by purging the bulk of her caloric intake. In her quest to manipulate the world (her world being the 90210 ZIP code) toward that and other ends, Kimberly convinces her two pals to join in a sexual harassment suit against teacher Mr. Anderson, a sweaty mess of a man who buys his young bride a school girl's pencil skirt and may or may not have a bigger-than-normal-thing for young girls. (Anderson is played with subtle perversion by emerging chameleon Ron Livingston). "It's like the whole world is an orchestra and I'm the conductor," says Kimberly-because things like this must be said out loud-at the peak of her Machiavellian conniving, which includes screwing and screwing over a feisty female local news reporter hot on the harassment story (topical issue: media and/or celebrity), forcing Randa into a debate with the school's Zionist contingency (topical issue: politics) and avenging her half-brother, who died in Project Iraqi Freedom (topical issue: revenge).
(Is revenge really a topical issue? Only if topical means germane for all time, which is good for future DVD sales, but I digress.)
How Siega ties together all of these Relevant Issues I won't reveal, but trust that most plot twists either don't add up, add up too easily or simply don't matter. And Skander Halim's script is as empty and convoluted as Kimberly's web of lies, mistaking ugly for interesting and relevant for consequential. (Too bad for Wood, whose cold-hearted performance manages to push through Siega's constant and insincere boundary-crossing.)
Unlike "Heathers" and "Election"-both brilliant satires because they exaggerate reality, magnify and darken the truth-"Pretty Persuasion" is not funny because it's not true. As for the promised commentary: Fame is ugly, the media corrupt, war is a sham and, as Randa writes on a school blackboard to bring it on home, we are all sinners. Tell me something I don't know.
Directed by Marcos Siega; written by Skander Halim; photographed by Ramsey Nickell; edited by Nicholas Erasmus; production designed by Paul Oberman; music by Gilad Benamram; produced by Marco Siega, Matthew Weaver, Carl Levin and Todd Dagres. A Samuel Goldwyn Films and Roadside Attractions release; opens Friday. Running time: 1:44. No MPAA rating (adult language, sex).
Kimberly Joyce - Evan Rachel Wood
Hank Joyce - James Woods
Brittany Wells - Elisabeth Harnois
Randa Azzouni - Adi Schnall
Emily Klein - Jane Krakowski
Percy Anderson - Ron Livingston
Grace Anderson - Selma BlairCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times