'Teeth': Snap Judgment, By Kurt Loder

An odd little sex film suffers from over-hype and lack of bite.

Any movie about a girl with an actual vagina dentata had better be either very scary or very funny -- or, preferably, both. Unfortunately, "Teeth" can't decide what it wants to be. A fright flick? A teen pic? A satire of uptight sexual Puritanism? So it ends up being about not much at all.

Virginal high school student Dawn (Jess Weixler) learned as a child that she was cursed with a toothy pudendum. Her lewd, obnoxious stepbrother, Brad (John Hensley), learned about it too, in a most painful way. Now, years later, Dawn is attempting to bury her budding sexuality in a pro-chastity student group. This tiny band of sexual naysayers is roughly mocked throughout the school, and the movie invites us to join in. "You have a gift," Dawn tells her assembled fellow members, and the "promise" rings they wear are "to remind you to keep your gift wrapped."

Dawn's best male friend is a boy named Tobey (Hale Appleman). Although Tobey says he believes he's still a virgin in God's eyes, he admits to Dawn that he once actually did have sex, and is "still dealing with the guilt." Dealing with it rather well, apparently. When he and Dawn strip down to their bathing suits at a swimming hole deep in the woods, Tobey becomes aroused and attempts to force himself on her. Dawn is confused and scared, but her vagina is enraged. Suddenly blood is spurting everywhere, and a howling Tobey hobbles from the scene poorer in parts than when he arrived.

This same scenario is replayed during Dawn's visit to a gynecologist. Here it's supposed to be funny; but the encounter is so awkwardly staged that our attention wanders to more laugh-worthy things, like the scene's awful lighting and the director's primitive camera technique.

Lying in wait through all of this is Dawn's crude, metal-head stepbrother Brad, who has long lusted after her. This is odd, since you'd think the mangled finger he sustained during their childhood sexual interaction would be a constant reminder not to mess with this girl. But he, too, eventually makes his move, with what are by now entirely predictable results.

Apart from its cheap, cruddy look and its general listlessness (it has the taut excitement of a 1950s school hygiene film), "Teeth" may be most notable for its uncomprehending hypocrisy. In one classroom scene, we see that the students' biology textbooks contain diagrams of the male and female sexual organs -- and that the female diagram has been obscured by a large sticker. In the movie's production notes, first-time director Mitchell Lichtenstein points out that this scene is based on an actual instance of such school-board censorship in Lynchburg, Virginia. And "the most shocking thing about this story," Lichtenstein says, "is that it happened in the year 2000."

Well, here we have a movie in 2008 (or 2006, when it was actually shot) that's centered on a vagina; but while it shows us several bloodily severed penises, never once do we see that key female organ. (There are some brief shots of Dawn's breasts, but, like us, they seem bored too.) Is this censorship? Or is it exactly the same sort of public-response calculation that the Lynchburg school board indulged in? That might be an interesting question, if "Teeth" were in any way an interesting movie.

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