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Originally published Friday, September 2, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Movie review

Under the spell of Evan Rachel Wood

"It's like the whole world is this orchestra and I'm the conductor," says Kimberly (Evan Rachel Wood), a high-school princess in a prim...

Seattle Times movie critic

"It's like the whole world is this orchestra and I'm the conductor," says Kimberly (Evan Rachel Wood), a high-school princess in a prim pink blouse, secure in her power over the universe.

In Marcos Siega's coal-black comedy "Pretty Persuasion," we're in Beverly Hills, and Kimberly attends a posh private school where she rules like a dainty dictator. And when a dweeby drama teacher (Ron Livingston) crosses her path, she mobilizes an army, and a scheme (accusing him of sexual harassment), to bring him down.

It's a marvelous performance from Wood, the talented teen star of "Thirteen." Her Kimberly is wonderfully pleased with herself; her glib little lines trip out happily from her mouth, as if she likes the way they taste.

But Wood's fine work is undermined by the movie it's trapped in, which feels like a rough draft of itself: Skander Halim's screenplay is unnecessarily twisty and gimmicky, and some of the teenspeak dialogue falls flat, already out of date.

Movie review 2 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"Pretty Persuasion," with Evan Rachel Wood, Ron Livingston, Jane Krakowski, James Woods. Directed by Marcos Siega, from a screenplay by Skander Halim. 104 minutes. Not rated; for mature audiences (contains sexual subject matter). Varsity.

Siega's film blends elements of "Clueless," "Election" and "Heathers," but never finds the resonance — or the genuine fun — of any of those films.

You have to hand it to the director for not being afraid of the material; much of what unfolds in "Pretty Persuasion" is genuinely off-putting, particularly James Woods' meticulous, repellent turn as Kimberly's dissipated dirty-old-man dad. (His one-word reaction to the conclusion of the inevitable court trial is very funny, though: "Cocktails!")

This is dark comedy past midnight, but Siega's only filled half of the equation: Sure, it's nasty, but too often the film forgets about the comedy. And many viewers may be disturbed by the movie's sexual frankness, particularly as discussed and demonstrated (discreetly) by 15-year-old Kimberly. (The movie is being released unrated; if rated, it would certainly be an R.)

Occasionally the supporting cast registers: Jane Krakowski flits through the movie as a TV reporter who gets caught up in Kimberly's saga (her motto: "They give me fluff, I turn it into dirt"); Livingston gives a creepy edge to his usual offhand charm. But this is Evan Rachel Wood's movie and a clear signal that this teen angel is ready for grown-up roles.

At the end, she gazes at the camera, looking scarily focused and remorseless. Look a little closer and the expression gets more complicated, with vulnerability hiding somewhere behind Kimberly's bravado. Watch this actress — she's going places, and "Pretty Persuasion" is just a stop along the way.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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