WFTB Score: 7/20
The plot: Plain Janey Briggs seems set to spend another year as the butt of a load of familiar jokes, until bragging footballer Jake Wyler takes on the task of scrubbing her up to Prom Queen standard in order to win a bet. Meanwhile, Janey’s brother Mitch and his friends are desperate to lose their virginity and Jake’s sister Catherine is merely desperate to fulfil her rampant desire.
You may not have thought that movies such as American Pie and She’s All That contained enough substance to sustain a feature-length lampoon, but the five writers of Not Another Teen Movie thought differently and smashed the plots of several films together to make this spoof. Given that most of the films spoofed started off as juvenile and tasteless in the first place, it’s easy to fear the worst, but whilst Joel Gallen’s film is no Airplane!, it is thankfully a cut above recent efforts such as Epic Movie, Disaster Movie and so on (as far as I can tell, apart from ending in ‘Movie,’ this film is not linked to that franchise in any way).
Our main protagonist is Janey Briggs (Chyler Leigh), a nerdy composite of Rachael Leigh Cook’s Laney Boggs from She’s All That and Julia Stiles’ Kat in 10 Things I Hate About You, with – in an opening sequence in which some, er, ‘private’ time is interrupted by family and well-wishers – a dash of Jason Biggs’ American Pie loser thrown in for good luck. The film proper begins in time-honoured fashion with new guys being shown around the campus of John Hughes High School and promptly being sectioned off into three groups: Jocks, Nerds and ‘slutty girls,’ labels which rebel Janey rejects to the mocking of preppy cheerleader Priscilla (Jaime Pressly) and her friends.
On the male side, Chris Evans takes up the Freddie Prinze Jr. role as Jake Wyler, the popular but troubled quarterback who takes up the bet to make Janey a prom queen even though she has ‘glasses, and a ponytail… [and] paint on her overalls.’ Janey’s wackily-dressed friend Ricky (Eric Jungmann) loves Janey as she is, but he’s destined to be forever overlooked. Rounding out the picture are Mia Kershner as Catherine (essentially copying everything Sarah Michelle Gellar did in Cruel Intentions) and Cody McMains as Mitch (fulfilling, with his friends, the American Pie bit, though he’s also obsessed with a beautiful girl, like Cameron in 10 Things…).
What follows is an extremely mixed bag of hits and misses as Janey is revealed to be anything but plain and Jake learns life lessons, even if his bad luck in Football games continues. There are some very good jokes which mock the inherent ridiculousness of the plot of She’s All That, or other High School movie staples – the token black guy, for example (two black guys at the same party? That is wack!); there are also some funny ‘voices off’ that puncture the seriousness of several scenes. There are some very bad jokes, such as the English teacher complaining about toilet humour before getting covered in excrement and an extremely flatulent girl, the geriatric reporter from Never Been Kissed, or the cheerleader with Tourette’s.
In between, the plots of the original films play themselves out with brief excursions into other movies; as increasingly is the case in this sort of film, the writers appear to hope that playing the ‘recognise the film’ game will pass the viewer’s time pleasantly enough in lieu of new gags. Some of the references go back a long way: the tributes paid to John Hughes, The Breakfast Club and Molly Ringwald in particular (she turns up to glower in the finale) are cute, but you do have to wonder whether an audience familiar with She’s All That/10 Things etc. would recognise, or care about, the nods to old [High] school films. Still, these touches do no harm and it is good to see Paul Gleason reprising his role as the bolshy teacher taking detention. Breakfast Club cameos apart, Mr T livens up an otherwise dull Football sequence, and thankfully that’s just about the limit of the famous faces – many a recent spoof has resorted to roping in celebrities but giving them nothing to work with.
A musical number towards the film’s climax signals that all five writers are struggling for ideas, but the actors make sure that staying with them isn’t too much of an ordeal as the film builds to the inevitable Prom. Rather than mugging for the camera, the young actors play their roles pretty straight; Evans is solid and Chyler Leigh most impressive as Janey Briggs, pulling off the trick of being beautiful and funny with flair. Although Mitch and his friends are less compelling, Randy Quaid as Mr Briggs has a great time as their trashy, inebriate father; in general, the performances are less of an impersonation than you might expect, each character gaining a semblance of their own personality which is more than you can say for many a modern spoof.
To be completely honest, I would struggle to recommend Not Another Teen Movie over most of the films that give it its inspiration, but you could argue that its cannibalisation is little worse than those movies’ heavy leaning on The Taming of the Shrew or Dangerous Liaisons. Despite moments of excessive gross-out humour, this movie denigrates its cast and the ‘art’ of film-making far less than a lot of recent comedies, and the cast repay the favour with some bright playing, making the film palatable on repeated viewings. Not a teen sensation, then, but not a tragedy either.