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John Tucker Must Die

A Slow, Painful Death

John Tucker is so busted. He’s an affable pretty boy and captain of the high-school basketball team, which seems only fair since he’s the only 17-year-old white kid in America who can out-dunk Kobe Bryant. He’s also dating three girls at the same time -- a cheerleader (Ashanti), a vegan (Sophia Bush) and an honors student (Arielle Kebbel), all blessed with the looks of twentysomething models. Once his dirty secret is exposed, they come to a solemn conclusion: John Tucker must die.

Well, not exactly. Tucker (Jesse Metcalfe, of "Desperate Housewives" fame) is never in any real physical danger, much to the dismay of those expecting some cheerfully psychotic mayhem. Instead, the girls demand nothing less than his total humiliation, and set about devising schemes to shatter his charmed existence. When those backfire, they enlist the aid of Kate (Brittany Snow), a quiet dork who’s willing to help them exact revenge on a three-timing cheat. Together, they turn Kate into the most popular girl in school, and something of a beauty queen in her own right -- not much of a stretch, of course, since Hollywood’s idea of an ugly duckling is usually a lingerie model stuck behind a pair of thick glasses.

Kate doesn’t wear glasses, but her swift transition from anonymous dweeb to star cheerleader is no less difficult. She very literally stumbles along the way, but soon she’s hanging with the popular crowd and loving every minute of it… a little bit more than she expected. As for the master plan, it’s simple enough. She will win Tucker’s heart, then break it. The only problem? She falls for the lout. (No points for guessing.) And, wouldn’t you know, he develops real feelings for her, too.

With a more courageous, less predictable script, Tucker’s fall -- or, to be more precise, reinvention -- might have delivered on its promise of devious, perhaps even dangerous fun, but Jeff Lowell’s sanitized story takes few risks. It lacks the subversive wit that informed other, better teenage revenge fantasies like Heathers and Sugar & Spice. And for a movie that seems determined to flex its girl-power muscle, its ending is a curious contradiction. Rather than subjecting Tucker (who, it should be noted, is more congenial than any of his spurned lovers) to the ultimate comeuppance, it lets him off easy, denying his tormentors the satisfaction of a real payoff. Where’s the fun in that?

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars