'Lisa Frankenstein' review: Supernatural comedy never finds its stride
Courtesy of Focus Features
“Lisa Frankenstein” is an easy movie to root for. It’s the directorial debut from Zelda Williams, daughter of Robin, and has the screenwriting prowess of Oscar winner Diablo Cody, whose “Jennifer’s Body” has not only amassed a cult following, but could be seen as a spiritual companion to “Frankenstein.” I’m not sure the same fate awaits the writer’s latest venture as the 80s-set supernatural comedy that features Cole Sprouse playing a resurrected corpse, doesn't have much gas in the tank.
Not from a lack of trying, considering the aesthetic of “Lisa Frankenstein” is appealing not just for fact we see Carla Gugino go full tilt playing an evil stepmom clearly off her Xanax, but because the film brandishes a slick retro vibe, complete with a banger soundtrack that’s all the more disappointing as the narrative zigs and zags in several bizarre directions. The movie never locks down a clear tone or campy element aside from Kathryn Newton and Sprouse making a good pair, which is probably enough juice to give it minor cultural cache before its eventual streaming release, where it might be reclaimed by the masses.
Newton and Sprouse are no Amanda Seyfried or Megan Fox, so that prediction may prove to be unfounded, but as it stands at the moment, “Lisa Frankenstein” struggles to land its mark. Newton, far better and more loose in the genre mashup “Freaky,” plays Lisa, who is struggling to acclimate to her new school and homelife after her mother was murdered by an ax-wielding maniac (who was never caught, which renders this plot point rather mute). Lisa’s step sister (Liza Soberano - who understood the assignment) tries taking Lisa to all the hip parties, but the quiet teeanger would rather go for a walk in the cemetery than be bothered with high school hijinks.
That is until a whirlwind of events, including a laced beverage and one hellacious thunderstorm, sees a reanimated corpse (Sprouse - doing his best impersonation of Lurch from “The Addams Family”) emerge from a local gravesite, become attached to Lisa’s hip, and embark on a strange, murderous rampage. In trying to imitate popular genre films of the era in which it takes place, the movie loses its luster by riffing on “Weird Science,” “Heathers,” and Tim Burton. Except the comedic elements, crossbred with the occasional dramatic underscoring, left this viewer a little jaded. Lisa’s eagerness to help her newfound companion slash his way through town (in the hopes of reattaching some appendages) never gels in the way Williams or Cody assume it does.
To its credit, “Lisa Frankenstein” is committed to the bit and never shies away from its inspirations, but the pacing and the script are hardly in sync, fostering a movie that gets lost in its own ambition and held back by a PG13 rating. Instead, the film stays on its own wavelength, content to lure fans who recently devoured “Wednesday” and routinely shop at Hot Topic. That’s fine, but the enduring appeal of “Jennifer’s Body” was how it managed to subvert expectations and withstood the test of time. It didn’t settle for less.
LISA FRANKENSTEIN is now playing in theaters.