One thing you can say about Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody: she’s consistently inconsistent. Since her groundbreaking screenwriting debut in 2007 with “Juno,” her track record has been uneven, with the misses (“Ricki and the Flash,” “Paradise,” and “Jennifer’s Body”) outweighing the hits (“Young Adult” and “Tully”).
“Lisa Frankenstein” (Focus) lands squarely in the misses column. This latest installment in the current Frankenstein story revival (see “Birth/Rebirth” and “Pretty Things”), the thankfully brief movie limps along like a decaying corpse come to life. It’s set in a fictional Illinois town in 1989, where high school senior Lisa Swallows (Kathryn Newton), following the murder of her mother, has been sent to live with her father Dale (Joe Chrest), wicked stepmother Janet (Carla Gugino), and cheerleader stepsister Taffy (Liza Soberano).
Lisa is the kind of loner who prefers to do wax tombstone rubbings in an abandoned cemetery to attending high school keggers. But Taffy is determined to help Lisa fit in, no matter what. Unfortunately, Lisa’s party experience is a negative one, including getting dosed and then sexually assaulted by nerdy perv Doug (Bryce Romero). The only good thing that happens is that she gets to talk to Mike (Henry Eikenberry), the editor of the school literary magazine, on whom she has a crush.
During an especially lightning-filled rainstorm, the headstone of one of Lisa’s favorite graves is struck by lightning, reviving the dead body within, hereafter referred to as The Creature (Cole Sprouse). A failed 19th-century classical music composer, The Creature makes its way to the Swallows’ house where it attempts to commune with Lisa, a kindred spirit.
Missing an ear and a hand, The Creature looks to Lisa for help. Unfortunately, she’s barely navigating her own life, which involves attempting to steer clear of Janet, who is determined to send Lisa to a psychiatric hospital. It doesn’t help that The Creature, who is hidden in Lisa’s closet, has a penchant for destruction, including Janet’s Precious Moments figurines.
The Creature becomes protective of Lisa and in doing so begins a killing streak, starting with Janet. The good thing is that she won’t need one of her ears, which Lisa, who works doing alterations at a dry cleaner, expertly sews onto The Creature’s head. Shortly thereafter, Lisa and The Creature team up to kill Doug, who won’t be so handsy after they chop off one of his hands and attach it to The Creature. The only thing he’s missing is a functioning penis, and when Lisa catches Mike in bed with Taffy, she and The Creature solve that problem, too.
As we know, all killing sprees must come to an end, and in a scene involving a malfunctioning tanning bed, the star-crossed lovers are united. “Lisa Frankenstein” wants to be a Tim Burton meets John Hughes horror comedy, but it’s neither funny nor scary enough to live up to that lofty goal. Newton, who was so good in gay filmmaker Christopher Landon’s more successful horror comedy “Freaky,” couldn’t save “Lisa Frankenstein” if her life depended on it.