Pretty Persuasion stars the intriguing, deceptively dewy-looking Evan Rachel Wood of Thirteen and The Upside of Anger as Kimberly, a vixenish 15-year-old who stirs up dangerous mischief at an affluent high school when she frames a teacher (Ron Livingston) for sexual harassment. But it’s not Wood who personifies the repellent tone of this childishly coarse little scorched-earth satire on a theme of high school imitates life. Rather it’s Woods — James Woods. As Kimberly’s father, a limitlessly vulgar man obsessed with drugs, porn, and the pursuit of bigotry, Woods throws himself into the job of looking and acting disgusting with such excessive abandon that his every scene leaves stink marks.
Actually, each character is a lousy joke in this cynical, eager-to-shock Sundance indie (directed by music-video guy Marcos Siega from a script by Skander Halim). The movie wears its notion of incorrectness with a smirk, ignorant of how unearned that smugness is. Among the easy targets — the only kind the filmmakers can spot — are a pea-brained student acolyte (Elisabeth Harnois) and her clueless Arab-American classmate (Adi Schnall), both of whom back Kimberly’s accusation. And, naturally, the media comes in for cheap mockery, in the form of an ambitious local TV reporter (Jane Krakowski) who sees the scandalous sex-charge-in-a-high-school story as a ticket to career advancement.
But Woods’ papa-don’t-preach is the lousiest gag of all, symbolic of everything obnoxiously out of proportion and unpersuasive about Pretty Persuasion. The movie wants so badly to be mentioned in the same breath as Heathers or Election that it’s not even funny. Really, I mean it, this charred-black comedy is not even funny.