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Mean Girls

  Mean Girls
Funny, that's exactly how we feel when we watch "Saturday Night Live."

© 2004, Paramount
All Rights Reserved

After being home schooled in Africa for most of her life, Cady (Lindsay Lohan, "Freaky Friday") is making a fresh start in a suburban Illinois high school. Trying to fit into her treacherous surroundings, Cady makes friends with two "art geeks" (Daniel Franzese and Lizzy Caplan), as well as three of the most popular girls in the school, known as "The Plastics" (Rachel McAdams, Lacey Chabert, and Amanda Seyfried). Torn between the friends she respects and the popularity that will bring her attention, boys, and pretty clothes, Cady is pushed to the brink when The Plastics begin to betray her. Employing the rules of the jungle to help achieve revenge, Cady attempts to keep her self-respect as she sorts out the mess she's in.

What's really exciting about "Mean Girls" (IMDb listing) is that it was written by current "Saturday Night Live" savior, Tina Fey. In her first feature film screenplay, hopes were high that Fey could translate her razor wit and crack timing to the big screen, especially in the excruciatingly flooded genre of the high school clique comedy.

"Mean Girls," based on the novel by Rosalind Wiseman, is a nice idea for a film. "Girls" opens as a satire of high school life, complete with broad student stereotypes and requisite weenie teachers (played by Fey and Tim Meadows). The defining material of the film is how Wiseman juxtaposes the backstabbing, ferocious high school relationships with similar ones found in the animal life of Africa, and director Mark Waters ("Freaky Friday"") covers this material exactly for the first 45 minutes. But much like Cady herself, Waters begins to fall a little too much in love with his movie, and he doesn't know when to stop. "Mean Girls" is only a genuinely smart, wonderful film for about a 1/3 of its running time. The rest is devoted to stale gags (the film contains another entry for the "2004: Year of the Fart Joke" awards) and material so depressingly familiar that it sucks all the energy out of the production by the time it reaches the hour mark, where it just simply shrivels up and dies.

Most of the fault for the failure of "Mean Girls" can be placed on Waters' shoulders, as he is just the wrong man for this job. Fey's script is peppered with biting jabs at overindulging parents, sexualized pre-teens (a ripe topic if I ever saw one), and the awkwardness of being in high school without a defining identity. Waters directs the film as a slapsticky carbon copy of the one million other films featuring teen girls this past year (yeah, it includes another slo-mo shot of the cool girls walking down a school hallway while the loser crowd parts), neglecting to come up with any fresh ideas of his own, and ignoring Fey's lead in indulging the weirder side of the material. Fey doesn't come away from this completely clean, as ten lashes are in order for writing an extra sensory joke that actually includes the punch line, "ESPN." It's also too bad that she opted for such an unimaginative, played-out canvas for her first produced script. But under the direction of a Todd Phillips-style fearless yuckster, the dangerous side of "Girls" would be allowed to come out and play more. Waters can't quite sell anything that isn't completely obvious, and he's a wet blanket on the evident fun the cast is having.

"Mean Girls" has a lot of laughs, provided by Fey's unblinking eye towards the silly and the absurd (watch as the gay, flamboyant drama nerd sings "Beautiful" for the winter variety show), but she needs to find a director who can let her freak flag fly with total commitment. Waters isn't that man, and high school is far too dried up a target to be tackling anymore. "Mean Girls" wears out its welcome fast, which is frustrating considering the ability of the writer and the performers.

Filmfodder Grade: C

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