When you win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, as Diablo Cody did with her debut script for Juno in 2007, you have reason to feel confident in your talent. For Cody, this turns out to be a dangerous prospect. Her second film script, for the excruciating teen horror-comedy Jennifer’s Body, doubles down on the slangy Cody-isms, serving as a fresh reminder that the house of Juno wasn’t built on a foundation of homeskillets and honest-to-blogs. It was at heart an affecting story about a pregnant teenager sorting through some very difficult decisions and trying to do the right thing; her colorfully sarcastic one-liners worked, in part, because she deployed them as a kind of defense mechanism. By contrast, Jennifer’s Body is clever for its own sake, a showy piece of writing that doesn’t have that all-important ballast of sincerity. This time, Cody will stop a scene cold for the chance to shoehorn “move on dot org” into a sentence.
Another major problem: Neither Megan Fox nor Amanda Seyfried can handle the wordplay like Ellen Page did. As they play best friends on opposite sides of the popularity divide, Fox rips into her line-readings with lusty overconfidence, while Seyfried timidly pushes them across, as if they were written in a second language. The mayhem begins when the gleefully reckless Fox ropes Seyfried into going to the local roadhouse to see a touring emo band, because she has designs on the lead singer. (Adam Brody, as the diabolical frontman in question, handles the Cody-isms with hilarious aplomb.) After the roadhouse mysteriously bursts into flames, the band steals off with Fox in their van; later that evening, she returns to Seyfried’s house dazed and covered in blood. Soon enough, it’s revealed that Fox has been transformed into a rapacious demon who feasts on the flesh of the many young men who desire her.
What follows is a femme-centered, metaphorical horrors-of-high-school film in the mold of Ginger Snaps and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but Cody’s script fails in the fundamentals, like establishing the odd dynamic of Fox and Seyfried’s friendship, or defining the particular anxieties of teenage life. The dialogue reaches for the darkly funny abstraction of Heathers, but Cody shows off more than she illuminates; even in the middle of the gory climactic sequence, the characters are hurling one-liners at each other like rival battle-rappers. They forget that anything’s at stake.