Rose McGowan, Ethan Erickson, ...

It looks as if writer-director Darren Stein set out to make the nastiest high school black comedy ever. He certainly knows how to twist the barbed-wire repartee, but he’s so beholden to past movie models of cliquish cruelty — ”Heathers,” ”Carrie,” ”Clueless” — that he ends up with a synthetic yet shrill sadomasochistic cartoon. As Courtney, the meanest teenage supervixen at Ronald Reagan High School, Rose McGowan, her luminous ivory skin set off by bloodred lips, has a role perfectly suited to her dominatrix hauteur. Courtney leads the school’s bitch-princess elite, a quartet of fashion plates who tromp through the corridors on the highest of heels. During a gruesome mock-kidnap prank, one of the girls chokes to death on an oversize jawbreaker. Fern (Judy Evans Greer), the class wallflower, stumbles onto the group’s cover-up, and they give her a to-die-for makeover to seal her silence. (Too bad the makeover can’t make her a vivid character.)

”Jawbreaker” starts out as a bubblegum ”Very Bad Things” and ends up suggesting ”She’s All That” as directed by a John Waters imitator. Stein can’t decide whether he’s satirizing his demon heroines’ homicidal indifference or celebrating it. But McGowan, alone among the cast, makes her presence felt; she could be dynamite in a movie that did more than turn her into a slutty joke.

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