Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:37 - Released 7/21/00

Written and directed by Amy Heckerling (Clueless), Loser reminds me of a successful intercontinental airline voyage: uneventful, predictable, and boring, lumbering toward its inevitable destination without even any good scenery to look at along the way. Reuniting two of the young actors who starred in American Pie (Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari), Heckerling presents an eminently run-of-the-mill teen romance full of characters about whom it's hard to give a damn. Biggs and Suvari are both adequately likeable (in the same way one likes warm milk before bed), but Heckerling's script doesn't give them the smarts to recognize what we all see from their first meeting. The thrilling moment when they finally realize they're meant for each other could easily be missed by audience members digging for the last kernel of popcorn, a prospect much more tantalizing.

Paul (Biggs) is first seen surrounded by his loving family wishing him well as he leaves for college in New York City, with his father (Dan Aykroyd) assuring him that "people are basically good." Paul has been reared as an all-around nice guy, a fact that will prove to be his undoing when he arrives in the Big Apple. As the script repeatedly points out, literally and figuratively, New York is a hotbed of iniquity and a den of thieves, where no one is friendly or kind to his fellow man. Paul is out of place among his beer-guzzling, drug-taking roommates (Thomas Sadoski, Zak Orth, and Jimmi Simpson), who not only prevent him from getting any studying in, but make fun of him for his dress and his midwestern expressions. Of course, being a nice guy, Paul takes the personal attacks in stride, but worries that he'll lose his scholarship if he doesn't maintain his grades. In response to his concerns, his roomies kick him out. The only one who is nice to Paul is Dora (Suvari), his 20th-C. Lit classmate who is similarly put upon. However, Dora is not romantically available because she is dating the professor (Greg Kinnear), with whom she is "madly in love" despite the fact that he treats her like dirt and uses her as a cook, maid, and sex toy. Gee, I wonder what possible conclusion could come from this intricate premise.

Throughout its 97-minute running time, the aptly titled Loser is a poorly executed, shoddy affair. Some of its remarkably ill-thought-out details are a veterinarian's office whose set design features shelves of interestingly-shaped, unmarked glass bottles filled with variously colored liquids, the protagonist's use of the "F-word" as the moment he becomes a hero, and a misspelled word in the closing summation. What's more, there are numerous overdubs (where a character's language is "cleaned up" despite his lips saying something else) as if Heckerling decided at the last minute to leave out the sex and go for the PG-13 rating, but forgot about all the foul language. Biggs and Suvari strain admirably to make it look like they can't foresee the patently obvious conclusion in store for them. The one actor who actually seems to put something into his character is Kinnear, whose Professor Alcott is interesting and well-rounded, even humorous. Although he is supposed to be the one we despise most, his character is much more intelligent and easily identified with than all the others combined.

If you're planning to see Loser, you might want to take your favorite pillow along so you can at least get some shuteye during the trip. **

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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