REVIEW: Heathers (Michael Lehman, 1989)

If one knows anything about Heathers going in, one will expect an over-the-top, often cartoonish romp through the dark side of high school cliques from Michael Lehman, orchestrator of the highly enjoyable Airheads and the watchable Truth About Cats & Dogs. What one might not expect is an utter lack of respect for the audience.

Heathers' scenes play as if half of them have been left out. Only people like the ones depicted, who believe high school is the be-all, end-all of the universe, will find the story progression easy to follow. These people will be caught up in the pastiche of their least favorite classmate stereotypes and likely not notice how haphazardly the plot points, which settle uncomfortably between dark humor and phony morality, are handled.

Substance has been substituted for a desperate wish to be clever that comes off more grating than Brook Busey (that's right, no more pretentious pen names) on Adderall. In fact, considering the age Busey was when Heathers dumped itself in cinemas it may not be far off to partially blame the film for the insipid fashion by which her characters grind my mind. The forced kitsch of the dialogue is even more irritating than the uninspired score, which proves itself one of the Newman family's lesser efforts.

Clearly the film is not my cup of Drain-O but it is doubtful anyone else who has matured beyond their pubescent years will feel differently if seeing it for the first time. It does have a few brief, bright spots, such as the sweet (albeit contrived) exchange between the lead and what some may label an unlikely friend or the Glenn Shadix-led dream sequence that is reminiscent of early music television. These moments, however, barely begin to excuse the remainder of the proceedings.

When it comes to the cast, we have the seemingly range-devoid Winona Ryder doing her typical, faux-misanthropic shtick, a relatively dark Christian Slater foretelling the mid-90's popularity of Jonathan Taylor Thomas and a bland supporting cast who seem to have never learned the meaning of acting (with the exception of Phil Lewis, Scrubs' future Hooch, who is most definitely crazy).

Heathers is Mean Girls with murders, the latter obviously being a film released over a decade later but also improving on the clique-blasting material. If John Hughes anticipated Reservoir Dogs and tried to beat Tarantino to the slime-crime punch it might look like Heathers. More than anything, however, Heathers is a long, irredeemable hour and forty minutes that, while finishing on a note somewhat more worthy than it deserves, purports a reputation that is difficult to accept.

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