It’s all supposed to be played for laughs, but in the hands of screenwriter Diablo Cody (who won an Oscar for the overpraised 2007 teen-pregnancy comedy “Juno”), it’s tinged with her signature brand of punny, decidedly unfunny humor and glib, pseudo-edgy jokes about feminine hygiene and sexuality. (Lisa’s last name is Swallows. You do the math.) In an era when female agency and sexual autonomy have taken on new currency in Hollywood, Cody’s version of feminism is less genuine interrogation or empowerment than casual asides about menstruation — which might have felt revolutionary the first time she did it, but by now feel opportunistic and played out.
Cole Sprouse is game but barely recognizable as Lisa’s zombie in the friend zone; Carla Gugino brings brittle jitteriness to a thankless role as Lisa’s emotionally abusive stepmother; the brightest light in these dismal proceedings might be Liza Soberano’s Taffy, whose character delivers disarmingly sincere comeuppance to clichéd tropes of vapid beauty queens and mean-girl cheerleaders.
That sweet little subversion aside, “Lisa Frankenstein” makes for mostly grim watching. Zelda Williams, making her directorial debut here, manages to create a few arrestingly stylized sequences, including the animated shadow play that synopsizes Sprouse’s character’s backstory, and a dream sequence inspired by German expressionism and MTV (as if that isn’t redundant). As for the rest, it’s safest to reserve judgment, considering she’s been asked to execute a scattershot, gratingly self-amused script that continually mistakes inanely obvious wordplay for cleverness, and snark for wit.
Reportedly, “Lisa Frankenstein” is meant to exist in the same universe as Cody’s 2009 comedy “Jennifer’s Body.” But whereas that equally try-hard teen-com became something of a cult classic, it’s hard to see this one lurching toward the same fate; it feels too dated for that, not to mention too disposably slapdash and just plain lazy.
In one scene, I could have sworn I saw a QR code peeking out from a character’s spiral notebook. But maybe it was just the props trying to escape from a crass, obnoxious, woefully misbegotten movie. To which hapless viewers can only respond: Take us with you.
PG-13. At area theaters. Contains violent content, bloody images, sexual material, profanity, sexual assault, teen drinking and drug content. 101 minutes.