Feb. 6 2011 12:00 AM

Laughably ludicrous

Everyone can use a few good laughs in January, and "The Roommate" delivers plenty -- although that was probably not director Christian E. Christiansen's intent. An inept attempt to mix thrills with PG-13-style sensuality, the movie is glossy garbage that would be offensive if it wasn't so absurd.
Since today's teenage moviegoers weren't around to see "Fatal Attraction," "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," "Single White Female" and the other "sexy psycho" shockers of the late 1980s and early 1990s, they might initially be drawn in by screenwriter Sonny Mallhi's scenario about a bright-eyed babe from Des Moines named Sara (the pretty but hopelessly bland Kelly Minka) who enrolls at Los Angeles University and gets a crash course in Freak Out.
Sara shares her dorm room -- which has much nicer furniture and far more closet space than any dorm room on the planet -- with Rebecca (Leighton Meester), who sort of looks like Holly Hunter and seems as cuddly as Holly Hobbie until Sara can no longer give her all the attention she demands.
Thankfully, Rebecca stops short of growling, "I'm not going to be ignored!" But she does make it her mission to terrorize any rivals for Sara's affection, including hunting down a hard-partying blonde (Aly Michalka, half of the Aly & AJ musical duo) in the showers and engaging in a one-night-stand with Irene (Danneel Harris), a swanky stylist and potential mentor to aspiring designer Sara. As for the sleazy professor (Billy Zane) who tries to put the moves on Sara, and Cuddles, the stray kitten that takes shelter in Sara and Rebecca's room, Rebecca has diabolical plans for both of them, too. Apparently, the underlying notion in the film is that Rebecca's nascent lesbianism, combined with bi-polar disorder, has driven her into self-mutilating, homicidal madness.
The silliness of the situations is amplified by director of photography Phil Parmet's showy camerawork and the fatally feeble performances of some wildly miscast actors. At least 28-year-old Cam Gigandet, stuck with the thankless role of Sara's frat boy boyfriend, goes through the entire film with a "what am I doing here?" smirk on his face that suggests he knew he was trapped in a turkey. But the 30-year-old Kelly looks and sounds more like one of the "Real Trophy Housewives of Beverly Hills" than she does a college freshman, and Meester registers as shrill instead of thrilling. When Jennifer Jason Leigh gradually lost touch with reality and attempted to emulate Bridget Fonda in every way in "Single White Female," Leigh knew exactly how to make her character's mental breakdown both tragic and traumatic. Meester substitutes squeals and steely glares for genuine fury and pain, although Mallhi's sloppy script doesn't give her much room to do anything else.
"The Roommate" builds unsteadily to a prolonged catfight that's certainly a scream, although not in the scary sense. Hard as Christiansen tries to make this possessive/obsessive yarn creepy, it's ultimately far less mysterious and frightening than what's being dished out in your typical dorm cafeteria.