dir. Hardwicke

Opens Fri Sept 5

Various Theaters

During the '80s, there was an awesome, epic anti-drug commercial that was filmed in muted colors. It featured a beautiful, teenage woman alternately crying, dousing herself in the face with cold water, breaking things, arguing with people, and cracking up. It totally glamorized drugs. Thirteen is exactly like that. It opens with two hot, bitchy, 13-year-old girls fucked up off their asses, punching each other in the face, and laughing themselves loony. Cool!

Older people tend to address this film in an alarmist tone, while the younger set thinks it's crappy. (Except for the excellent tight jeans, slit shirts, and hoop earrings.) It tackles a lot of very real issues about maturity, but it takes on too much at once, to no effect. The lead protagonist is a smart, well-behaved child--until the hottest, brassiest, most popular girl in school criticizes her socks. Then it's like she slipped on a banana peel and became the embodiment of parental paranoia: Drugs! Tongue piercings! Boys! Shoplifting!

One of the film's stars, Nikki Reed, who plays the corruptive friend, also co-wrote the script. It's very telling that there are two distinct points of approach, because it strikes like a horror film for parents and a fashion promo for youth with a predilection towards delinquency; it's realistic and romantic, and takes itself very seriously. After all, Holly Hunter stepped down from her perch to play the "cool mom,Ó as a gesture towards her support of such citizens' concerns.

Maybe the problem is that it's too cool, and the plot doesn't have enough focus to send a meaningful message about the myriad of problems that flank pubescence. It's realistic enough to be as tempting as it ever was to rebel, but the plot is just drama heavy and aimless.

It's basically just a big red flag that blooming young beauties are dangerous. Indeed they are, as any red-blooded soul full well can appreciate. If you're a paranoid parent looking for thrills and chills, Thirteen will deliver. Otherwise, the histrionic fall from grace is fun to watch but very difficult to take seriously. Except for those slashed shirts. Those are serious.