Nerdy Denis (Rust) uses his graduation speech to reveal his unrequited love for campus queen Beth (Panettiere) and insult a cross-section of his classmates with debasing stereotypes. This nightmare scenario is to high-school valedictorians what this wreck of a movie is to comedy screenwriters. Larry Doyle’s adaptation of his own novel (!), in which Hayden Panettiere’s blond she-devil gives Paul Rust a night beyond his geeky dreams, cribs tiresomely from the “how to write dorks” manual. Denis stuns his nuts while uncorking champagne, wears Spider-Man tighty-whiteys and duels a jock with a plastic Star Wars lightsaber.
It doesn’t help that Rust is a sniveling nonpresence, unable to balance the screen with his female counterpart. In her first major big-screen role, the Heroes star conveys a strange, sad aloofness behind her sexed-up, car-crashing anarchy. In the midst of their destructive joyride, she blurts, “Who says it’s supposed to be fun?”; you wonder if Doyle (who wrote Looney Tunes: Back in Action and several Simpsons episodes) and director Columbus are consciously trying to implode the genre, emphasizing a suburban teen desolation undistracted by charismatic characters. If so, it’s an experiment done at the expense of the audience.—Kevin B. Lee