||The best thing one can say about "Slap Her...She's French" is that it's not nearly as bad as its awful title would suggest. But that's faint praise indeed. The picture is basically a teen version of "All About Eve" set in "Clueless" territory, but with a heavy Texas accent. Perhaps such a weird brew is what a viewer might have expected from one screenwriter (Lamar Damon) who's best known for producing "reality" TV shows and another (Robert Lee King) whose chief claim to fame is "Psycho Beach Party." Who can say what might issue from so unlikely a combination?
Newcomer Jane McGregor stars as Starla Grady, the campus queen at Splendona High in Texas (the picture was shot in the Dallas area). As part of an effort to win yet another contest (and save her grade in a French class and her spot on the cheerleading squad as well), she and her family take in a foreign exchange student named Genevieve (Piper Perabo), who initially seems to idolize her. Before long, however, Genevieve has become the new campus celebrity, stolen Starla's quarterback boyfriend and her catty friends, engineered her failure in French and usurped her captaincy of the cheerleading team. Eventually Genevieve goes so far as to frame her for drug use and attempted murder. But with the help of a couple of unlikely allies--her little brother Randolph (Jessie James) and a student photographer (Trent Ford) whom she'd dismissed as an east-coast loser--Starla unmasks the wicked Genevieve for what she really is, learning humanity and humility in the process.
There are good things here. Director Melanie Mayron, an actress herself, gets her leads to hold the caricature-like qualities of the script within almost reasonable limits. McGregor is an attractive and ebullient presence, and she's well-matched by Ford, who's likable and laid-back as the good guy whose virtues Starla sees only late in the game. James is charmingly deadpan as the little brother, too. Performance problems arise, in fact, among the better-known members of the troupe. Perabo's dreadful accent is explained in the concluding twist, but even apart from that she comes on too strong, and Michael McKean is even worse as Spendona's oily French teacher. (It's not really his fault: the material he's stuck with isn't quite as poor as that he was given in the recent "Never Again," but it comes awfully close.) The cartoonish quality of the writing is equally apparent in the work of Julie White and Brandon Smith as Starla's dopey parents, Nicki Aycox and Alexandra Adi as her airheaded pals, and Matt Czuchry as her faithless boyfriend.
The cast's difficulties, though, arise from the script, which never treats the "Eve" plot idea with any real wit. The humor is forced and heavy-handed, and occasionally simply unpleasant (a lesbian allusion, for example, is completely unnecessary, and most of the stuff involving McKean is faintly sleazy). The turn to sweetness toward the close comes across as cheaply manipulative. And the big finale--with its very silly revelation--is just a repetition of the revenge scenario so familiar from teen slasher flicks of the 1980s. The performers do what they can't but they can't rise much above what Damon and King have provided them with.
Maybe this high-school retelling of Joe Mankiewicz's brilliant 1950 movie could have worked had it featured a gender-reversal and been called "All About Yves." Then again, maybe not.