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Wayback Wednesday: John Tucker Must Die (2006)

YESSS to “Dirty Little Secret” being this movie’s theme song!

My most vivid memory of John Tucker Must Die (2006) is watching it for the first time at my friend’s 10th birthday party with her dad in the room. Awkward? Yeah, kind of. And what made it much more awkward is that he was laughing harder at the jokes than any of the 4th graders in the room. Probably because all of the jokes went way over our young heads. Looking back this was maybe not a great choice for 10-year-olds to watch. Look, I’m not very conservative when it comes to subject material, but it’s probably not a great idea to let a room full of kids watch a movie that in all seriousness has scenes like a horny vegan saying to her date, “For you, I don’t have to give up ALL meat.” Oh, and she’s a high school student to boot. So, yeah, not great. And speaking of not great, wow oh wow is this movie not nearly as great as I remember. Well, to be fair I never thought John Tucker Must Die was “great,” but I remember it being at least more coherent than the hour and a half I just sat through. 

Credit: / 20th Century Fox

John Tucker Must Die follows Heather, Beth, and Carrie, three teenage girls who discover that star basketball player John Tucker, has been dating all three of them behind their backs. When he breaks up with each of them, the girls get revenge by recruiting cute new girl Kate to break his heart and publicly humiliate him. 

You know what’s a weird coincidence? The director of this movie, Betty Thomas, played the villain in last week’s Wayback, Troop Beverly Hills (1989). By the way, check out my review for that movie, here. I swear, I didn’t plan this. Just one of life’s happy accidents. Okay, so I know that 2006 wasn’t that long ago, but wow, I can’t believe how low the quality of movies used to be 15 years ago. Is everything shot in HD now? John Tucker Must Die straight up looks like it was filmed in 1998. Tonally, it feels like something out of 1998 as well. Why were movies in the 1990s and 2000s so obsessed with critiquing and commenting on the sexuality and relationship choices of young women? Especially teenagers? There’s still a long way to go when it comes to the shit women are unfairly scrutinized for, but at least in 2021 we’ve chilled a bit when it comes to caring about other people’s sex lives. I mean, in real life do you really care if another person is “easy?” No, absolutely not. As long as they’re being physically and emotionally safe, honestly, go with God. This movie presents a lot of antiquated ideas when it comes to relationships.  

Also, maybe this is me watching a movie I used to watch as a pre-teen with my now 25-year-old eyes, but it’s so awkward watching movies about teens trying to be promiscuous knowing full well that that’s the furthest thing from reality. It’s just not how real 16 and 17-year-olds act or look. It’s just funny to me that Hollywood thinks teens are out here being THE MOST sexual. When I was 16, I had braces, acne, and was more interested in what kind of chips I would be eating in front of the TV on Friday night rather than how to be seductive. So, I looked it up and the sole writer of John Tucker Must Die was a 33-year-old man. No duh, that’s why this sexy comedy about high schoolers is so cringey and bad. Shockingly, one adult man can not write convincing dialogue for four teenage girls. Actually, that fact makes a lot of the dialogue coming out of their mouths seem so much creepier. Especially since so much of the girls’ lines sound like they’re straight out of a porn. I don’t know about you guys, but I feel so icky listening to “sexy” dialogue written by a 33-year-old man for a 20-year-old woman who is playing a high school girl. If this movie had simply been set in college it would have been far less creepy. 

The way in which John Tucker Must Die is trying to piggyback off the success of Mean Girls (2004) is painfully obvious. The new girl named Kate who moves to a new school just wanting to make friends and somehow falls in line with a trio of popular girls? Then she is recruited to sneakily tear apart a popular student by lying her way into his life? Even her attempts at sabotage end up making John more popular just like Regina George! John Tucker Must Die is a Mean Girls clone. That, and it’s clearly inspired by / trying to be a take on The First Wives Club (1996) for the new millennium. It’s so, so, so, close to being a campy high school comedy but the mediocre writing is what fails this movie. The premise is solid and there are fleeting moments of enjoyment, but ultimately John Tucker Must Die is a no. It has all the necessary parts to make a decently entertaining teen movie, but is so underwhelming and confused in the execution. It ends up just being “meh”. It’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s not so bad it’s good…it’s just kind of an average movie all around. This could have been so silly and memorable! It takes Mean Girls and The First Wives Club, two great movies, and blends them together to create a middling movie.

This SHOULD be a movie that is deeply rooted in female friendship but the movie’s attempts at sisterhood feels artificial and undeveloped. In The First Wives Club those women are actually friends and you can see them care for each other, but in John Tucker Must Die there’s no bond. Their union is very circumstantial and it doesn’t feel earned or like they would continue to be friends after the credits roll. Ugh, and speaking of the credits rolling, nothing is more anticlimactic than the ending of this movie. Everyone comes clean with their lies at John’s birthday party and everyone is just cool and gets off without any consequences. It’s very much, “hey, we’re all terrible liars so now let’s have a food fight while a shitty cover of ‘Time After Time’ plays?” Ugh. Okay, one line that actually made me (unintentionally) laugh out loud is when Kate describes John as “looking like something between an Abercrombie model and a Greek god. Lolol, not this average man! 

Not to keep comparing this movie to Mean Girls but what helps make that movie so successful is that the cast of that movie is God-tier and supremely talented. They all understood the assignment and the satirical tone that Mean Girls was going for. The cast of John Tucker Must Die are just reading their lines. They’re all pretty bad actresses. I have a nasty feeling that the studio didn’t really care whether or not these girls could act, and relied on their sex appeal to sell the movie. It doesn’t help that the main four characters are tragically underwritten and their only character traits are horrible stereotypes. All of their lines are centred around their sole defining trait: “I’m smart and hot. I’m popular and hot. I’m sweet and hot. I’m dumb and hot.” Of all the girls, Snow is definitely the best actress. Although her character, Kate, is terribly one-dimensional as the sweet new girl, she’s the one who seems to be at least trying to deliver a solid performance that attempts to elevate the material. Bless Sophia Bush’s heart. She’s doing her damnedest to save this movie and make it as fun as it should be. It helps that her character, Beth, is the kooky one so she has more agency to be funny, but unfortunately it’s not enough to redeem John Tucker Must Die. She gets my nomination for MVP though! 

As the titular character, Jesse Metcalfe is just as wooden an actor as his co-stars. If he weren’t Hallmark channel handsome I’d be less into his performance than I already am. The cast is acting like what they think characters in a teen romantic-comedy should be acting like, and it just feels so stale. I credit it to the truly terrible writing. Like, I want to be swooning over Kate and Scott’s flirtatious relationship but the movie is smothering them in every possible teen romance movie cliché that it feels like they’re trying way too hard and it’s coming off forced. Speaking of Scott, WHAT is happening on top of Penn Badgley’s head? Was that a wig or his real hair? I won’t rest until I know for certain. He looks like a caveman. Also, his character is kind of sweet but really he’s just playing Dan from Gossip Girl (2007 – 2012). 

The only way I can earnestly recommend John Tucker Must Die is if like me, you haven’t seen it in a decade. Gather your friends, open a BIG bottle of wine and laugh at how dated this movie is. Scoff at what used to pass for a teen comedy while you talk all the way through and laugh at the stupidity. John Tucker Must Die is a trashy sleepover movie and I hope it knows that. Oh, and that the entire thong scene(s) are iconic. Is it sad that that’s what people most remember about this movie?

Have you seen John Tucker Must Die?

Let me know in the comments or on social media!

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