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Jack & Diane

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'Jack & Diane': Languid love story
Kat Murphy, Special to MSN Movies

Don't be looking for any link to John Mellencamp's anthem about angsty Heartland lovers here. This movie's Jack and Diane are urban teens of the same sex, blitzed by true love the instant their eyes meet. That muffled implosion sets off nearly two hours of soulful staring and sporadic, barely audible small talk. Nursing bruised psyches, these kids are behaviorally as limp as rag dolls, but their "passion" manifests in hot horror-movie images. And, oh yes, every once in a while something like a werewolf crashes the party. Monster aside, this languid Romeo and Juliet love story lacks a pulse. Devoid of energy and direction, "Jack & Diane" settles for faux-naïf posturing and arty color design.

Search: More on Juno Temple | More on Riley Keough

Diane's a wide-eyed British waif vacationing in New York with her aunt, prior to enrolling in a French school of fashion design. Crowned by a tangled blond mane, she's the picture of whimsy in a self-designed, ultra-cute, quirky A-line dress accessorized by colorful knee-high stockings and clunky sneakers. She might be a retro-etching of Alice in Wonderland. It's hard to tell Diane's age, since her face seems to have frozen in an expression of childlike, or maybe lobotomized, melancholy. She acts like she was born yesterday.

A little girl lost in the city, Diane runs into Jack, a street-smart Huckleberry Finn. Long-limbed and boyish, her dark curly hair cropped short, Jack skateboards around town in a ragged man's shirt and sleeveless T, grieving for a brother who died of a broken heart -- and maybe looking to follow in his footsteps. As Diane, Juno Temple is so limpid, so boneless, she's more sad-eyed Keene print than real live girl. But Riley Keough's Jack at least has an engaging muscularity. Mobile and androgynously arresting, her face is capable of more than one expression. Her passion for Diane may be under wraps, like everything else in the movie, but it's as binding as an umbilical cord.

Director Bradley Rust Gray ("The Exploding Girl") uses stylized lighting to mark Jack and Diane as sisters from another planet, existing on a plane visually separated from mundane reality. Drenched in neon-red, the two near-strangers sit side-by-side in a club, not looking at each other. Time passes. We watch and wait. Then, as though magnetized, these feral children turn and kiss ... and kiss ... and kiss. Kinda grabby at first, but pretty soon you're bored, checking for the exit. Later, transfigured by bathroom black light, Jack kneels before a witchy Diane, helping to shave her pubic area. Intimacy or perverse ritual? The rules of the game are known only to the characters -- or the director.

The rare times Jack and Diane resort to words, they speak in the herky-jerky, high-voiced style of very young kids. Their real communion arises from gazing deeply into each other's eyes. Unfortunately for us, these interludes are like witnessing the proverbial drying of paint. But Tantric penetration does draw blood: The lovers are soon plagued by frequent nasal hemorrhaging, and even more of the red stuff gets spattered when a lycanthropic id-monster suddenly comes out to play, hot to eat the lovers up. Punctuating this pretentious Freudian phantasmagoria are glimpses of illuminated meat -- glistening muscle, bloody organs -- and slithering braids of blond and brown hair, all lubriciously animated by the Quay Brothers, with a wink and a nod to surrealist filmmaker Jan Svankmajer.

Sounds pretty kinky, eh? 'Fraid not. Not one iota of Cronenbergian subtlety or symbolic resonance (vs. "They Came From Within") sexes up this art-house attempt to mate hormonal passion with horror elements. We aren't even in "Ginger Snaps" territory. Maybe these nightmare eruptions mean to aim us toward "Where the Wild Things Are" for libidinous lesbians. Problem is, this couple's way too lame and tame to have the emotional guts so horrifically pictured by the Quay boys.

It's not such a stretch from these two enervated lovers, shedding their human skins for werewolf appetites, to the sulky droops in the "Twilight" saga unable to bring even their blood-sucking selves to passionate life. Monsters in horror movies are supposed to conjure up all the forbidden stuff we've been suppressing at our peril. What does it mean when our monsters just put us to sleep?

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Kat Murphy once had the pleasure of writing a book-length comparison of Howard Hawks and Ernest Hemingway, friends and fellow travelers in fiction (Quentin Tarantino reckoned it "cool."). She's reviewed movies in newspapers and magazines (Movietone News, Film Comment, Village Voice, Film West, Steadycam) and on websites (Reel.com, Cinemania.com, Amazon.com). Her writing has been included in book anthologies ("Women and Cinema," "The Myth of the West," "Best American Movie Writing 1998"). During her checkered career, Kat's done everything from writing speeches for Bill Clinton, Jack Lemmon, Harrison Ford, et al., to researching torture-porn movies for a law firm. She adores Bigelow, Breillat and Denis -- and arguing about movies in any and all arenas.
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