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Dustin Putman

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She's All That  (1999)
2 Stars
Directed by Robert Iscove.
Cast: Freddie Prinze Jr., Rachael Leigh Cook, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, Paul Walker, Kieran Culkin, Anna Paquin, Elden Henson, Matthew Lillard, Kevin Pollack, Gabrielle Union, Kimberly "Lil' Kim" Jones, Tim Matheson, Usher Raymond, Clea DuVall.
1999 – 97 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for profanity and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, January 30, 1999.
"She's All That" is the latest entry in the once-again popular teen comedy and although it is, for once, nice to see a group of characters not being sliced up by a knife-wielding maniac, this is not one of the better entries in the genre, lacking the ultimate charm of the '80s John Hughes films, such as 1984's "Sixteen Candles" and 1987's "Some Kind of Wonderful." Quite similar in style to last year's superior "Can't Hardly Wait," which has been criticized by some critics for its "stereotypical" characters, even though they actually showed a great deal of growth as the film progressed, "She's All That" actually does present a wide array of stereotypes and does not in any way try to create three-dimensional people out of them.

The story, a modern-day cross between "Pygmalion" and "My Fair Lady," is set between the time periods of spring break and the senior prom, and deals with the most popular guy in school, Zack Silar (Freddie Prinze Jr., gradually improving as an actor with every subsequent role), who is angered when his bitchy girlfriend and stereotype #1, Taylor Vaughan (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe), breaks up with him for stereotype #2, Brock (Matthew Lillard), a self-infatuated Real World alum whom she meets at Daytona Beach. Trying to prove the point that he can turn any girl into Prom Queen because of his own high stature, Zack's jock friend and stereotype #3, Dean (Paul Walker), makes a bet with him and chooses who he thinks is the most geeky girl in their class, the sensitive and artistic Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook). At first hesitant and suspicious of Zack's sudden advances towards her friendship, Laney eventually agrees to go out with him and, in the process, really does become popular after a makeover assisted by Zack's wise-beyond-her-years makeup-obsessed younger sister, Mackenzie (Anna Paquin). Although Zack begins to really like her, Laney still doesn't know that it is all just a bet and that, at first, he was only using her.

In comparison, "She's All That" places somewhere in the middle of the pantheon of teen comedies, and is at least much better than the shameful "Porky's," but that is still not much of a compliment. Although the screenplay by R. Lee Fleming Jr. features many bright moments and clever lines, and the two main characters of Zack and Laney are likable enough, as are some of the smaller, less important roles, such as Mackenzie and Laney's younger brother (Kieran Culkin), I was, alas, always aware at what pea-brained nitwits surrounded them. Since the teen comedy owes a great deal to John Hughes, I'm afraid I will always compare other similar films to his, and while they also included stereotypes on the outset, by the pictures' ends, you really got to know most of them as human beings. In "She's All That" there is not even an attempt at growth, particularly in the unreedeming character of Taylor. Surely, there are people in high school who are just as stuck up as her, but they do not act in the caricaturized way that Taylor does, even if she is well-played by O'Keefe.

The other performances either qualify as good or merely adequate, and are generally not up to the level of those in "Can't Hardly Wait." Prinze Jr. is refreshingly not a stereotype, and I appreciated that he also was not a football player, but instead into soccer. Cook, previously featured in smaller film roles and in the annoying and laughable anti-drug commercial of a girl going into a frenzy with a frying pan, is winning as Laney, a girl who loves art and takes care of her brother and widowed father (Kevin Pollack), but is unsure if she wants to get involved in the sort of people she has avoided all her life. Paquin, a natural talent who won an Academy Award at the age of 12 for 1993's "The Piano," is a standout as Mackenzie, even though she is highly underused. Finally, Gabrielle Union shows a great deal of promise as one of the rare non-stereotypical characters, a girl in the popular clique who remains kind to Laney throughout.

"She's All That" has a lot of offbeat individual moments, such as when Taylor is trying to make out with Brock while he determinedly watches himself on MTV's The Real World, but the film never really impressed me. I rarely got caught up in what was occurring onscreen and didn't really care, either. The movie's outcome is just about as predictable as the conclusion of "The Usual Suspect" is unpredictable, and therefore, what little suspense that the film was able to generate quickly diminished. A telling moment does occur in "She's All That," however, that signals that times have certainly changed in filmmaking since the '80s John Hughes. In 1986's "Pretty in Pink," the picture also concluded at the prom, but dealt directly with the story and what Molly Ringwald's friendship with Jon Cryer and budding romance with Andrew McCarthy meant to her. In 1999's "She's All That," the action is suddenly pushed to the wayside to make way for a ridiculous and elaborately choreographed dance sequence that would more appropriately fit in "Grease 3."

Note: As in "The Faculty," Usher Raymond is featured prominently in the ads for this film but has an even smaller role that probably wouldn't equal out to three minutes. This is really getting annoying and is truly unnecessary.
© 1999 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman