Color, 1999, 87 mins.

Directed by Darren Stein

Starring Rose McGowan, Rebecca Gayheart, Julie Benz, Judy Greer, Chad Christ, Ethan Erickson, Carol Kane, Charlotte Roldan (Lopez), Pam Grier, Jeff Conaway, Marilyn Manson, William Katt, P.J. Soles / Produced by Stacy Kramer & Lisa Tornell / Music by Stephen Endelman / Cinematography by Amy Vincent

Format: DVD - Columbia (MSRP $29.95)

Letterboxed (1.85:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 5.1

Don't expect to see too many more movies like this after the recent spate of high school shootings. Jawbreaker, the satirical tale of a clique of popular girls who accidentally bump off their friend during a birthday prank, is impossible to take seriously as it winks at the high school hell genre perfected by such films as Carrie and Heathers (the two most obvious points of reference here). However, if a network is too scared to air an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with graduation interrupted by a giant serpent, Jawbreaker would surely land on the political chopping block, too, if more people actually saw it.

Liz Purr, a beautiful high school senior, seems to have it all - looks, charm, and power - until she wakes up on the morning of her seventeenth birthday to find herself bound and gagged in her bed with a jawbreaker stuffed into her mouth. Her three friends -- Courtney (Rose McGown, a.k.a. Mrs. Marilyn Manson, who easily walks off with the entire film), Julie (Urband Legend's Rebecca Gayheart), and Foxy (Julie Benz) -- stuff her into Courtney's trunk and plan a nasty bit of birthday morning humiliation, but it all goes awry when Liz gags on the jawbreaker and suffocates to death. Stuck with a body on a school day, the girls decide to return Liz back to bed and arrange the scene to look like a sexual assault. Unfortunately, they're witnessed by mousy nerd Fern Mayo (Judy Greer, a mini-Anne Heche); to buy Fern's silence, Courtney gives Fern a makeover, makes her popular, and christens her with a new name, Vylette. Of course, like all good American morality tales, everything spirals out of control when the girls' rival power trips force them to do unspeakable things to each other, egged on by the police investigation of Detective Vera Cruz (Pam Grier, excellent and looking great but terribly underused). Like all good high school tales, the sordid saga ends at the prom where everybody gets exactly what's coming to them.

Jawbreaker benefits greatly from superb casting, from McGowan's showstopping bitch goddess turn to amusing bit parts (Carrie's William Katt and P.J. Soles reteaming for a don't-blink cameo, Grease's Jeff Conaway as Julie's dad, When a Stranger Calls' Carol Kane as the principal, an unrecognizable Marilyn Manson, and so on). Director Stein's gaudy eye captures every inch of the gaudy, ultra-vibrant decor and fashion design so perfectly this winds up playing like a nasty Valley version of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and his acidic, often hilarious dialogue fires off one rapid clip after another. Jawbreaker doesn't work completely due to its unfortunate indebtedness to Heathers and the simple, inescapable fact that films specifically designed to be cult movies rarely manage to pull it off due to their own self-aware "hipness." While no classic, Jawbreaker is still plenty of fun for viewers in the mood for an insubstantial, slightly nasty puffball of a movie loaded with quotable lines and pretty colors. As for McGowan, she finally gets to strut her stuff full force and at last has the acting ability to pull off the snippy diva routine she first attempted in The Doom Generation and Scream.

As usual, Columbia's DVD of Jawbreaker is first rate, from the eye-popping anamorphic transfer to the deliriously expansive Dolby Digital sound mix. Like most films now, this is overstuffed with pop songs from beginning to end, but at least for once the tunes are well chosen and comment humorously on the action. Stephen Endelman's quirky score (which seems to be a deliberate homage to David Newman's Heathers) enhances the frothy, zippy scenario with a macabre humorous tone, and Stein provides a feature-length commentary ranging from humorous anecdotes to unforunate film school student self-indulgence. A satisfying disc overall, this sweet and sour confection isn't quite perfect but richly deserves to find its intended audience on the small screen where its modest, vinegar-laced charms can perhaps be better appreciated.

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