Wicked

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Wicked

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With the possible exception of the Bob Dole/Britney Spears Pepsi commercial, no pop-culture phenomenon exploits adult interest in youthful sexuality as creepily as movies prominently featuring deadly nymphets. A home-video staple for much of the past decade, thanks to big renters like Devil In The Flesh and The Crush, the deadly-nymphet genre appeals to viewers' prurient interests while absolving them of complicity by presenting lissome teens as voracious vipers. Yet another overheated drama warning of the dangers pouty-lipped teens pose to blandly handsome middle-aged men, 1998's Wicked stars a pre-stardom Julia Stiles as an insouciant, troubled teenager wasting away in a stifling gated community. Taunted ruthlessly at school and alienated from her adulterous, mean-spirited mother (Chelsea Field), Stiles finds comfort only in her loving father (William R. Moses), whose relationship with his daughter goes well beyond paternal affection. Stiles also has an unfortunate tendency to strangle and physically abuse her peers, so when Field turns up dead and Stiles begins acting more like Moses' spouse than his daughter, heads naturally begin to turn. Taking the strong Oedipal element of the deadly-nymphet movie to its logical extreme, Wicked balances uneasily between caustic social satire and formulaic thriller mayhem. Director Michael Steinberg's previous projects—arty, personal fare like Bodies, Rest & Motion and The Waterdance—would seem to promise better things. Intermittently, Wicked does seem to edge toward blunt comedy, with its mean-spirited depiction of perversity and deception behind the walls of homogenized suburban America. But with the exception of Moses' memorably hellish second wedding, in which a neighbor's bleating rendition of "I Honestly Love You" seems to mock Stiles' drunken pain, the moments of comedy clash painfully with the routine thriller surrounding them. At least Stiles shows promise, even while stuck in a formulaic genre exercise as a 14-year-old whose Oedipal complex may or may not have a body count.

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