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DVDs In Brief: January 6, 2010

Diablo Cody’s Oscar-winning Juno script announced the first-time screenwriter as a fresh, distinctive new voice, but her disappointing follow-up, Jennifer’s Body (Fox), suggests that Juno’s strengths weren’t necessarily in its clever-for-its-own-sake dialogue. Divorced from the fundamentals of character development and coherent themes, the Cody-isms in Jennifer’s Body are deeply annoying, tied to a familiar high-school-as-horror metaphor and a weaker take on the femme lycanthropy of Ginger Snaps. It doesn’t help that the two leads, Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried, can’t handle the language as adeptly as Ellen Page, but even Page would have trouble with the invented “honest to blog”-level slang here…

The Blair Witch Project may have seemed like a pop-culture anomaly, but the surprise hit Paranormal Activity (Paramount) borrows liberally from Blair Witch’s horror-vérité game plan, trading in the primal spookiness of the woods for the creepy banality of a nondescript apartment where a couple’s troubled relationship further disintegrates as they deal with increasingly undeniable instances of supernatural motherfuckery. Oren Peli’s low-budget shocker gets a little J-horror-y at the end, but otherwise, this creepy, effective, affecting left-field blockbuster lives up to the hype…

Writer-director David Twohy has been turning out Hollywood action and science-fiction scripts for years—including The FugitivePitch BlackWaterworld, and others—and his knowledge of their mechanics gives A Perfect Getaway (Universal) a fun meta-thriller kick. Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich play a honeymooning couple on the run from killers in remote Kauai, and every couple they encounter become suspects. The twist is a doozy, and Twohy’s big reveal sells it beautifully…

The biggest disappointment about Shane Acker’s directorial debut, the dark CGI fantasy 9 (Universal), is that it had the potential to be so much more. The visuals are beautifully planned and executed, and they draw viewers deep into a terrifying post-apocalyptic world populated only by deadly machines and tiny patchwork homunculi. Problem is, there's nothing at the heart of the machine but awkward clichés, unearned schmaltz, and plot holes…

By contrast, Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs (Sony) looks slick, garish, and cartoony, with generally just passable CGI animation. But the story is cleverly thought-through, the characters (voiced by Bill Hader, Bruce Campbell, and James Caan, among others) are winning, and the pacing is perfect. The plot, about a mad scientist who makes food rain out of the sky, and the greedy mayor who takes advantage of the situation, is one big silly goof, but the whole thing moves along with the bumpy, mesmerizing energy of a monkey trying to stay balanced on a spinning barrel. It's light entertainment, but really fun light entertainment.