Oh, to have teenage kids just so I could forbid them to see I Love You, Beth Cooper.
A miscast and misjudged graduation-night comedy, Cooper occasionally — only occasionally — wanders into "harmless." Much of the time it's sending bad messages about, oh, driving without your lights on after dark, using sex to score beer, and letting peer pressure determine your sexuality.
Let's state emphatically that America's teens are too smart to do most of those things. Let's also state they probably won't find much to laugh at in this emphatically unfunny comedy from Chris Columbus, the guy who owes his career to Home Alone.
Paul Rust is the charmless, uncharismatic lead, Denis, a nerd who uses his valedictory speech to tell his classmates what he really thinks of them. And that girl he has lusted for, but never ever spoken to? She (Hayden Panettiere) gets his punch line: "I love you, Beth Cooper."
She is flattered, and during the course of a long and tedious graduation night, Denis and his pal Rich (Jack T. Carpenter), whom he outed in his speech, follow Beth and rest of "The Trinity" (Lauren London and the hilarious Lauren Storm) as Beth drives her Yaris like a long-lost Andretti, flees her maniacal military boyfriend and knocks herself off the pedestal Denis put her on.
The reason this was made was to escort young Panettiere from "cutie" to "hottie." But did they need the lame cocaine jokes, the military bashing, the parents (Alan Ruck and Cynthia Stevenson) playing hide-the-vibrating-cell-phone?
There is no way to discuss this movie without wondering whether there has ever been a more successful awful director than Columbus. The movie was adapted by the fellow who wrote the novel on which it is based, Larry Doyle, and is so tone-deaf as to make one fear for American publishing. The woebegone Rust, the poor man's McLovin, is ill-suited for this in so many ways — no timing, no sparkle, zero chemistry with Panettiere.
At least this should quickly become one of those blips on Panettiere's résumé, a Leprechaun for the New Jennifer Aniston to roll her eyes about on Conan's couch a few years down the road.