It’s not as if the title card screaming “JWOWW PRODUCTIONS PRESENTS” exactly inspires confidence. Anyone who’s seen Jersey Shore recognizes that the potential for a great feature-length film wasn’t apparent in MTV’s six-season ethnographical documentary on the mating behaviors of Italian-American young adults. But Paul Tarnopol’s first (and, for the good of all mankind, hopefully final) feature, Jersey Shore Massacre, is far, far worse than even the most dismissive among us might have assumed.
What keeps Jersey Shore Massacre lively is that this mean-spirited, aggressively stupid film constantly finds new and shocking ways to be terrible. Every time viewers think they’ve got a bead on exactly what sort of bad movie Massacre has chosen to be, it sinks another level deeper. It’s in a constant race with itself to the bottom, but in this race, there are no winners. There are only losers. Losers, and a chainsaw-wielding murderer who gets stabbed in the eye with a vibrator.
Before numbering the film’s myriad self-inflicted shortcomings, consider the glaring flaw hardwired into its very conceit: Jersey Shore Massacre is a crass cash-grab from a cultural entity that filed for zeitgeist-bankruptcy years ago. It’s been a while since the show had the public clout to merit a half-assed brand extension like this, yet executive producer Jenni “JWoww” Farley has pushed it into existence regardless. Excepting the Facebook commenters on the movie’s official website—one of whom renders this entire review redundant by writing, “this movie looks like it’s gonna be stupid lol”—nobody was braying for a feature based on the misadventures of Snooki, the Situation, and the rest of the good-time gang who laughed, loved, and vomited on themselves at Seaside Heights from 2009 to 2012. If irrelevance were this film’s cardinal sin, however, it could perhaps be salvaged on other fronts. Regrettably, it isn’t, so it can’t.
The opening credits roll over the sort of nightclub found on every other block of the Jersey Shore: A guy roofies a girl at the bar, women hoover lines of coke in the bathroom, and couples make a valiant effort to swallow each other’s tongues in the back. After a double-booking stymies a planned weekend getaway to the Shore, a gaggle of done-up guidettes end up at a secluded estate deep in the New Jersey backwoods. In a move familiar to anyone who’s seen an episode of the original show, the ladies sojourn to that same bar and return with a posse of equally unsavory menfolk for an evening of stunted conversation and sloppy “smashing.” The film diverges from its source material here in that one by one, they soon fall victim to the brutally unoriginal attacks of an unseen killer. (A tasteless shower murder will have Alfred Hitchcock flipping the bird from beyond the grave.)
But Jersey Shore Massacre isn’t content merely to gather every available cabin-in-the-woods cliché and gussy them up with a bad spray tan and hair extensions. No, it also frequently assumes the shape of an insultingly broad direct-to-DVD comedy. Tarnopol’s sense of humor plays to the brain’s most underdeveloped regions, appealing chiefly to 10-year-olds looking to kill time after a long day at summer school. Here’s a brief litany of things the film ostensibly finds humorous: a dog peeing on a girl’s foot, a guido who punches out a teasing mime in a fit of ’roid rage, a jellyfish that’s kicked onto the bare scalp of a beach patron, and a trio of greasy-haired, sniveling nerds plucked from the fevered imagination of a high-school jock in 1985. At one point, a guidette, having downed five laxatives in an effort to hastily slim down for the weekend, ends up shitting herself in the surf of the Jersey Shore. The man who got stung by the jellyfish then steps in it. Poor guy can’t catch a break, but there are worse things in life. Jersey Shore Massacre is one of them.
Among the film’s more unexpected crimes is the game of Culturally Insensitive Bingo that Tarnopol gets closer to completing with every sequence. In an early scene, the lisping horndog Ricardo balances his career as a hairdresser (because it’s common knowledge that the ability to cut and style hair is coded directly into the DNA of all gay men) with a tireless campaign to set back the cause of LGBTQ rights. Later on, the gaggle of reality-show rejects make time to hurl a few slurs at a group of Latina women who have purloined the keys to the chic beach house the girls thought they had reserved. Overweight people, those mollycoddled leeches on society, get their rightful comeuppance via a completely unnecessary film-within-the-film called Fat Camp Massacre, as well as via Rosemarie (Leonarda Bosch), a character conceived solely to make and receive jokes about her zaftig figure.
Jersey Shore Massacre does more than amplify the flaws of its source material. The characters, in their infinite dickishness, are prohibitively hard to care about, and the camerawork possesses all the visual grace of an infomercial for press-on fingernails. But where those were once unavoidable obstructions tied to the constraints of reality TV, they’re now active choices in a script most likely written after five Jaegerbombs too many. The implicit phoniness native to the reality-show form feels more like an act of deliberate malice when scripted.
Beyond that, the conundrum located in the vacant space where this film’s heart should be is this: Why would Jenni “JWoww” Farley put her name on a film so intent on portraying her and her ilk as self-involved, shallow, moronic, cruel Barbie dolls? It’s a Jersey Shore movie transparently made by people who hate Jersey Shore, its cast, and all it stands for. Maybe she didn’t read the script. Maybe the allure of the words “Executive Producer Jenni ‘JWoww’ Farley” was too great. Maybe it’s a cry for help. Regardless, Jersey Shore mania was a shameful chapter of pop-cultural history that America has blessedly left behind. This snarling mutant bastardization attempts to bring back those dark days, but arrives stillborn.