She's All That
Rating -

Comedy/Romance (US); 1999; Rated PG-13; 95 Minutes

Freddie Prinze Jr.: Zach Siler
Rachael Leigh Cook: Laney Boggs
Matthew Lillard: Brock Hudson
Paul Walker: Dean Sampson
Jodi Lyn O'Keefe: Taylor Vaughan

Produced by Peter Abrams, Jennifer Gibgot, Richard N. Gladstein, Kyle Ham, Richard Hull, Jeremy Kramer, Robert L. Levy, Jill Sobel Messic, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein and Lila Yacoub; Directed by Robert Iscove; Screenwritten by Lee Fleming Jr.

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Written by DAVID KEYES

"She's All That" is about a popular high school kid who winds up turning an ugly duckling into the prom queen after his girlfriend dumps him. Now is it me or does this setup sound familiar? Oh wait: it's the same setup that "My Fair Lady" was based on, which in turn was taken from the "Pygmalion" story. It seems at this point that high school comedies are now becoming so desperate for new ideas that they're ripping off old ones. But heck, a rip-off is more worth recommending than some of the other ideas used in teenage flicks now.

When you peal away the formula, what you have are some intriguing setups heightened to greatness by creditable characters. It starts out without inspiration, slowly develops a rhythm (and I do mean slowly), and then it eventually emerges as a fun, humorous and well-organized retelling of the classic "Pygmalion" story. It's not always a good sign for movies when they try to modernize classic fables (ala "Romeo + Juliet") but "She's All That" develops a shape and concept that in ways allows the filmmakers to freely establish motivation and plausibility. There are times when the newer references and plot developments seem paper thin, and that allows us to see right through the formula. But it makes recoveries from those slow moments. It isn't bad, it isn't great. It's an average teenage movie, and for teenagers, that will be enough, considering how the genre has suffered recently.

Freddie Prinze Jr. plays the lead here, a popular high school kid named Zach, whose high GPA average garners him numerous college scholarships. He's practically got the title of prom king in his pocket (the movie takes place about six weeks before, a little after spring break), but when his 'prom queen' dumps him for MTV star Brock Hudson (Matthew Lilard), his buddies bet that he can turn a wallflower named Laney into the new prom queen. He takes the bet, and before you know it, we are given the realization that this Laney is just a duckling in disguise. Behind the glasses and the pinned-up hair is a gorgeous girl with long hair and beautiful eyes, who in turn learns to love Zach for his kindness and gentleness towards a girl like her.

The story is just as predictable as it was long before with "My Fair Lady," but both movies have as much fun as they can in between the lines. The chemistry between Zach and Laney is ignited so well that you feel like someone should stand behind the camera with a pale of water in case one of them catches on fire. It gets even more fun when Laney and Taylor (Zach's ex) get to be prom rivals, and the tension heats up between the two.

Rachael Leigh Cook as Laney has the least convincing performance in the whole film, however. Unlike the old story it is based on, her character does not give in to the popularity often accompanied by a makeover like this. Her attitude never really changes, nor does the look on her face after the final transformation from cocoon to Butterfly. It seems one dimensional, as if she doesn't care whether she succeeds in beating Taylor or not.

The actors in the movie look like genuine 20-year olds, and that obviously gives away the signals that this is supposed to be 'teenage comedy.' Why is this? Why must older people portray younger characters? Some claim because teenagers aren't allowed to see "R" rated films, but if that's true, it's not like it should matter with "She's All That," or any other movie for that matter. It's only rated PG-13, meanwhile, when Jodie Foster was fairly young, she was in "Taxi Driver," a film which even she admits that she couldn't see. Why change the rules now? There's sometimes exceptions, whence 20 year-olds look like teens, but that's not so the cast with "She's All That." We know Freddie Prinze Jr. is not teenager, even though he acted like one in "I Know What You Did Last Summer."

There are numerous problems with the characters and formula, but the movie retains decency throughout its other characteristics. It's funny, observant, and sometimes charming, especially during the scenes shared by Prinze and Cook. They have great interaction with each other. "She's All That" is certainly not going to go down in history books, but at a time when the teenage market has garbage like "The Faculty" and "Varsity Blues," it works well with the material it's given.

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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