July 16, 2009

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I Love You, Beth Cooper (PG-13)
A nerd makes one last stab at getting the cheerleader of his dreams in the last-day-of-high-school comedy I Love You, Beth Cooper, a weirdly uneven and dreary movie.

Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) is his high school’s valedictorian and all set to give the big graduation day speech. But instead of the standard oh-the-places-we’ll-go nonsense, Denis, at the urging of his friend Rich (Jack Carpenter), decides to use the podium to proclaim his love for bombshell cheerleader Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere, who must be getting sick of this role by now). She is both embarrassed and charmed by his declaration. Not so charmed is her boyfriend, Kevin (Shawn Roberts), a slightly older meathead who decides to, like, totally kill Denis. So shortly after Beth and her friends show up at Denis’ house for his lame party (otherwise attended only by Rich), Kevin shows up to, I don’t know, pummel the valedictory out of Denis. Thus begins a night of escape and capture and threat of physical violence and revelation and way too many references to other movies (Rich, you see, is a movie buff and speaks almost entirely in quotes).

The trailers for this movie try hard to make it look like any other high-schoolers-gone-wild movie, Superbad maybe with a recognizable female character. The movie itself is not some PG-13-level raunchfest — it might have been easier to understand if it were. Nor is it the sweet coming-of-age movie its unexpectedly emotional script seems to hint at. It’s just off — like a record played at the wrong speed or a regular TV picture stretched to fill a widescreen box. Nothing fits. The characters sound off-key, the laugh lines fall flat. Denis might be a moderately realistic character, but the movie puts him in insane situations that it doesn’t even fully commit to. The two female characters who show up with Beth — Treece (Lauren Storm) and Cammy (Lauren London) — are bizarre. Treece is the kind of gum-snapping airhead who would feel dated in a 1980s high school movie. Cammy is possibly a more layered girl, but the movie allows this to come out only in spurts. The three girls act like your standard issue Mean Girls until the end, when suddenly Beth and Cammy get introspective. It would have been more interesting to have hints of these girls all along.

From the “seize the day” speech given by the “hip dad” (played by no less than Alan Ruck, Ferris Bueller’s fellow traveler when he seized the day all those years ago in 1986) to the cutesy gimmick of putting the cast and crew’s high school yearbook photos with the credits, everything about this movie feels second-hand and worn. But rather than a retro revival of vintage teenagerness, it just seems ill-fitting and tired. D

Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, some teen drinking and drug references, and brief violence. Directed by Chris Columbus and written by Larry Doyle, I Love You, Beth Cooper is an hour and 42 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by 20th Century Fox.