“Lisa Frankenstein” tries to thread a delicate needle, stitching together a mix of horror, comedy, romance, and teen angst, all while adopting a decidedly off-kilter tone. The result is an interesting misfire, yielding a few amusing moments while adding up to considerably less than the sum of its parts.
A collaboration between relatively new director Zelda Williams (Robin Williams’ daughter) and writer-producer Diablo Cody (who established her teen cred with “Juno” and “Jennifer’s Body”), the story is set in 1989, which is appropriate, since that places it right between two movies to which it owes thematic debts: “Heathers” and “Edward Scissorhands,” which probably means Winona Ryder would have played the lead had the film been produced back then.
Instead, that role falls to Kathryn Newton (of “Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania” and “Big Little Lies”) as Lisa, a teenager who has survived a tragedy, moving to a new town and school thanks to her dad (Joe Chrest) marrying her cartoon-hostile wicked stepmother (Carla Gugino).
The new arrangement also comes with a stepsister, Taffy (Liza Soberano), who perkily steals the show at times as the popular cheerleader determined to help coax Lisa out of her shell. Instead, Lisa spends time hanging out at an abandoned cemetery, swooning over the likeness of a dead youth from an unknown period who, after a wayward wish, comes lurching back to life.
Cole Sprouse (“Riverdale”) plays the reanimated, silent corpse, at first pretty hideous and missing a few parts. Yet Lisa opens up to him, and later finds that tanning equipment works wonders in terms of making him more presentable.
What ensues from there is weird, disjointed and occasionally a bit grisly (the PG-13 MPAA rating notwithstanding), though like the aforementioned “Heathers,” Williams and Cody skirt it – or at least seek to – by playing the violence for laughs.
Mostly, “Lisa Frankenstein” emerges as another ode to teen self-absorption, with its protagonist so caught up in her own issues that she seems mostly oblivious to the implications or fallout from what she might have unleashed.
Seen from a distance, the film joins a long line of movies and TV shows about teenage girls who have fantastic creatures come into their lives, from the aforementioned “Edward” and the “Twilight” series to Disney Channel’s “Zombies” movies.
That historic appetite for this subgenre likely explains why the film was brought to life – just in time for Valentine’s Day, no less – as a kind of counterprogramming to the Super Bowl. Yet as the surname suggests, having the spark necessary to get something off the ground is only a small part of an operation that “Lisa Frankenstein” can’t quite pull off.
“Lisa Frankenstein” premieres February 9 in US theaters. It’s rated PG-13.
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