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‘All the Boys Love Mandy Lane’: Aspiring to art, settling for splatter

Amber Heard 'All Boys Love Mandy Lane.'

Amber Heard in "All the Boys Love Mandy Lane."

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Mandy Lane Amber Heard

Emmet Michael Welch

Garth Anson Mount

Red Aaron Himelstein

Radius-TWC presents a film directed by Jonathan Levine and written by Jacob Forman. Running time: 90 minutes. Rated R (for strong disturbing violence, pervasive drug and alcohol use, sexuality/nudity and language — all involving teens). Available now on demand and opens Friday at the Music Box Theatre.

Updated: November 12, 2013 6:12AM

If Amber Heard looks a little bit younger in “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane” than she does in the simultaneously released “Machete Kills,” that’s probably because there’s about a seven-year gap between the time she shot the two roles.

Filmed in 2006, showcased at Toronto and other notable film festivals and given a theatrical release in the UK in 2008, “Mandy Lane” was domestically mired in a fog of acquisitions and sales and re-sales, and is only now finally seeing the light of day in the U.S. via video on demand and a theatrical release.

It wasn’t really worth the wait.

This is a stylish, sometimes self-consciously artsy teen slasher film with cinematography that borrows equally from the sweeping-vista beauty of Terrence Malick and the grindhouse cinema Robert Rodriguez fetes in the “Machete” movies. It clearly aspires to be something more than another story about empty-headed teenagers in a remote cabin who get picked off one by one in gruesome fashion — but at the end of the day, that’s pretty much what we’re getting.

Heard is the beautiful and mysterious Mandy Lane, whose hallway strolls and track practice runs are captured in slow motion as all the boys (and many of the girls) stop and stare as if a goddess had just crossed their paths. The slobbering jocks at her Texas high school yammer on and on about how hot she is, and they argue over which one has “the first shot” at her. It’s not clear if any of them has ever had a single conversation with the girl.

One particularly thick-brained lout tries to impress Mandy by jumping off his roof and into his backyard pool. That doesn’t end well.

Cut to nine months later. Mandy is no longer speaking to her creepy best friend Emmet (Michael Welch), who prodded the jock into jumping off that roof. Sporting the messy haircut and oversized hoodie of the typical movie outcast, Emmet pathetically chases Mandy around the track, trying to get her to read the poems he’s written about her. Mandy and her friends just laugh him off as they make plans to spend the weekend at the family ranch of Red (Aaron Himelstein), who seems just as creepy as Emmet but has a lot of friends, maybe because his out-of-town parents have given him the keys to that sweet ranch.

Once we’re at the remote locale, we meet the obligatory handsome but brooding ranchhand Garth (Anson Mount). The girls think he’s dreamy — but Emmet advises caution, because Garth hasn’t been the same since he came back from the war. Ding-ding-ding, suspect alert!

Director Jonathan Levine’s camera does a nifty job of giving us glimpses of a shadowy figure lurking outside the house as the group drinks and drugs and flirts and fights. Some of the saturated-lens stuff makes it look like we’re watching an Instagram-filter movie, but remember, Instagram wasn’t even invented way back when they shot this thing.

The dialogue and subplots are odd, the characters uniformly unlikable. Red says of Mandy, “There she is boys, Mandy Lane. Untouched, pure. Since the dawn of junior year men have tried to possess her, and to date all have failed. Some have even died in their reckless pursuit of this angel.”

Whitney Able’s Chloe continually harps at her supposed best friend Marlin (Melissa Price) about being “fat,” even though Marlin is a gorgeous girl who doesn’t need to lose a pound. What’s that about? Meanwhile, Marlin makes fun of her little brother’s ADD and mocks the equipment of the guy she supposedly loves.

And Luke Grimes’ Jake is a narcissistic, casually cruel prettyboy who has recently dumped Chloe, casually uses Marlin and corners Mandy in the kitchen.

All the while, Mandy is a cipher, despite her fetching looks. Mostly she just looks on with a quizzical expression as her friends behave like shallow hedonists and make questionable decisions to wander off alone, one by one, in search of the last idiot who wandered off alone and didn’t return.

Who’s brutally torturing and killing the cheerleaders and the jocks? It’s not much of a mystery, and about halfway through the carnage, the killer is revealed. Neither the killer’s reasons for the murder spree or the subsequent “surprises” are particularly shocking. And the last five minutes are just gross and stupid. The slick-looking closing credits offer one last reminder of the director’s talents, which were largely wasted on a nothing story.

“Mandy Lane” was more interesting when she was MIA then when she finally came to light.


Twitter: @richardroeper

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