Pretty Persuasion US Theatrical Release: August 12, 2005 (Sony Pictures) US DVD Release: December 13, 2005 Running Time: 1:49:45 (28 chapter stops) Rating: R (For strong sexual content and graphic dialogue involving teens, and language) Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Audio: English DD5.1 Subtitles: English, French TV-Generated Closed Captions: English Menus: Not animated Packaging: Standard keepcase; insert features cover images of other Sony titles. MSRP: $24.96 THE WAY I FEEL ABOUT IT: 2/5 Teen comedies don't get much darker than Pretty Persuasion. In fact, it's a bit of a stretch to even call it a comedy. It does have its funny moments, but they feel shoehorned into a story whose core consists of truly grim events. This is one of those films that are focused on an antihero with thoroughly bad intentions. That said, there are times when it seems to want the viewer to feel sympathy for its protagonist, which clashes with her actions nearly as much as the comedic parts do. Kimberly Joyce (Evan Rachel Wood) is a 15-year-old student at an elite Beverly Hills private school. When we first meet her, she is auditioning for the part of a nubile French exchange student on a vapid sitcom. This is the first hint that she is willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants. Once she gets to school, she seems relatively normal, but there are hints of a passive-aggressive streak. She befriends a new student, Randa (Adi Schnall), a shy Palestinian girl who takes her traditional head covering seriously even as she reaches that age when most teens tend to question the things they've been brought up to believe. But we soon sense that Kimberly's friendship is not as innocent as it initially appears, as she decides to list, in order, the races she'd like to be if she weren't White. Middle Eastern brings up the rear of this list. Guileless Randa isn't quite sure what to make of that, but she is glad to have someone to hang out with. Next, we are introduced to Kimberly's best friend Brittany (Elisabeth Harnois), a blonde with a studly boyfriend, Troy (Stark Sands). Judging from the way Kimberly looks at them from afar, it is very obvious that this situation is trouble waiting to happen. It turns out that this was formerly Kimberly's beau. She tells Brittany that she has no problem with her seeing him, and Brittany remains happily oblivious to her true feelings. Of course, if it's not obvious to her that Kimberly's not going to let it slide, it's quite clear to the film's audience. Things take a turn in a different direction, however, as Kimberly has bigger fish to fry. The girls' English and Drama teacher, Mr. Anderson (Ron Livingston), gives them no end of grief, and is rather creepy to boot. He clearly has inappropriate thoughts regarding his young students, which has given him a certain reputation around the school, although it's not clear whether he's ever actually acted on them. And if the creepy way he looks at the girls wasn't enough, the film makes absolutely sure that the audience squirms by having him not very subtly dress his wife (Selma Blair) in an outfit resembling the girls' uniforms. Detention for Kimberly and Randa, along with a very bizarre incident involving Brittany during a Drama Club rehearsal, convinces the girls that it's time to get their revenge on Mr. Anderson. Together, they bring a serious public accusation against him (which really isn't so far-fetched) that immediately explodes into a media circus. We wonder not only whether he did it, but also whether the girls are truly of one mind, or if Kimberly is just using her friends to swell her own publicity. For the most part, Pretty Persuasion is very dark, with some characters who evoke sympathy but none who are really likeable. Most of it is played straight, with an almost noir-ish atmosphere. But sometimes, it desperately wants to be funny. Really, really desperately. This usually occurs when Kimberly's father Hank (James Woods) appears on screen. His bizarre behavior and bigoted ranting are completely over the top. And while it's so wacky that it's clearly being played for laughs, it also appears to be intended as some explanation (excuse?) for Kimberly's sociopathic behavior. And "sociopathic" is the word for it. Kimberly's actions go way beyond funny teenage hijinks -- they are ruthless and evil. Unfortunately, the serious stuff clashes with the humor in the script. Now, humor certainly has its place in a dramatic story, but many of the gags here are thoroughly absurd. On top of Hank's antics, Anderson's court defense revolves around a theory suggested by his lawyer (a fellow teacher at the school) that is so ridiculous it seems to have snuck in from a Monty Python skit. The script often feels like it doesn't know which direction it wants to take, and ends up going back and forth in jarring ways. Sometimes it does this literally, with unnecessary flashbacks that bring the plot to a screeching halt. (At one point, it flashes back to the girls concocting a plot that anyone who's been to a movie before has already figured out every last detail of.) Another speed bump is Kimberly's boyfriend Barry (Mike Erwin), who pops onto the screen a couple of times with no apparent raison d'etre other than to relate some crude jokes. Pretty Persuasion is, unfortunately, a near miss. It has the seed of a good story, and the cast does a fine job, but it doesn't quite come together into a successful whole. The filmmakers needed to either lighten things up generally or replace the especially silly stuff. In addition, there are a few half-hearted attempts at evoking sympathy for Kimberly that just make things more uncomfortable. Another flaw, which is common to this sort of story, is that things are just a bit too easy for Kimberly. Her every move produces exactly the intended result, regardless of who needs to be manipulated. The least believable is an ambitious (aren't they all?) TV news reporter (Jane Krakowski), who seems especially weak when she falls victim to Kimberly's wiles. THE WAY I SEE IT: 4/5 The image is very nice. It has good detail and very little in the way of artifacts. Blacks are solid and colors are realistic. There is some visible edge enhancement THE WAY I HEAR IT: 3.5/5 The audio is clear and sounds good. However, it rarely ventures outside the center front channel. There is occasional ambience in the side channels, and a little bit of incidental music. The soundtrack gets the job done, but doesn't go much beyond that. THE SWAG: 0.5/5 (rating combines quality and quantity) Trailers When the disc is first inserted, the trailers for The Gospel and Sueno play automatically. They may be skipped. The Exorcism Of Emily Rose (2:30) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic) Oliver Twist (2:14) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic) The Gospel (1:48) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 non-anamorphic) Sueno (2:20) (DD2.0; 1.78:1 anamorphic) Into The Blue (2:15) (DD2.0; 1.85:1 anamorphic) Saved! (1:22) (DD2.0; 1.33:1 non-anamorphic) SUMMING IT ALL UP The Way I Feel About It: 2/5 The Way I See It: 4/5 The Way I Hear It: 3.5/5 The Swag: 0.5/5 Pretty Persuasion is not a bad film, but it doesn't quite succeed either. It's a bit too schizophrenic, juxtaposing silly humor with brutally nasty behavior. None of it is terribly subtle, either. But for those who enjoy it, the A/V presentation is pretty good. The lack of extra features is unfortunate, as it might have been interesting to hear from the filmmakers about why they made some of the choices they did.