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Unwieldy Beth Cooper impossible to love
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Unwieldy Beth Cooper impossible to love

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

I Love You, Beth Cooper Opening July 10

Tragically un-hip Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) is his school's valedictorian, and at the urging of best friend Rich Munsch (Jack T. Carpenter), he's going to give a graduation speech no one will ever forget. He's going to declare his undying love for Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere), and even if the rest of the student body thinks he's insane, at least the senior will head off to college with zero regrets.

What Denis did not expect was for the blonde bombshell and her two best friends Cammy (Lauren London) and Treece (Lauren Storm) to arrive on his front doorstep looking to party. Things are unsurprisingly awkward, but when Beth's militaristic older boyfriend Kevin (Shawn Roberts) also arrives, wanting to pound the gawky grad into the pavement, it's up to the former head cheerleader to whisk him, Rich, and her two girlfriends to safety in her beat-up hatchback.

As the wildest night of his life takes off, Denis realizes giving that speech might have been the best decision of his life. All that's left to do now is to survive until morning and reap the unexpected benefits.

Based on the popular novel by screenwriter and one-time writer and supervising producer for The Simpsons, Larry Doyle, the rambunctious teen comedy I Love You, Beth Cooper marks Home Alone and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone director Chris Columbus' return to the genre for the first time in 14 years. Unfortunately, the man responsible for unhinged cult favorites like Gremlins (he wrote the script) and Adventures in Babysitting, as well as massive family hits like Mrs. Doubtfire, isn't hitting on all cylinders, and despite a couple of off the wall moments and some inspired bits of lunacy, this isn't a movie anyone involved with is likely to list all that high on their respective resumes.

Pity, because the seeds for a Risky Business or Ferris Bueller's Day Off (one of whose stars, Alan Ruck, makes an appearance) style winner are all in place. Doyle and Columbus take no prisoners, no corner too dark or crevice too disgusting for them to venture inside of. At the same time, there is potentially a sweetly enchanting innocence to the protagonist's journey that could have made me smile, the ultimate destination one young and old alike can easily find parts of themselves within.

But none of it ever comes together. The whole movie has a haphazard inelegance that is ungainly and annoying. It is almost as if playing in J.K. Rowling's sandbox for so long, directing a theatrical version of the Broadway musical Rent and producing both of the Night at the Museum behemoths has dulled Columbus' comedic senses, the director unable to string scenes together no matter how hard he tries.

It does not help that Rust, for all his plucky abandon to throw himself into whatever mischief required of him, makes a poor Denis. The kid's comedic timing is a mess, which is rather odd considering he stood out so marvelously in Will Ferrell's Semi-Pro. Here, however, he is miscast, and not for a second did I buy him as either the smartest kid in school or the soulfully sincere nebbish capable of winning Beth's heart.

Once upon a time, actors like Tom Cruise, Matthew Broderick or Anthony Michael Hall would play this type of character, and while their movie-star looks varied, each of them still offered up irresistible bits of magnetic charm which made them unforgettable. Modern versions of this archetype have been embodied by the likes of Jason Biggs and Emile Hirsch, and while their films (American Pie, The Girl Next Door) aren't exactly memorable what they were able to do inside of them certainly was.

Rust isn't in that group's company. Heck, he even does the unthinkable and makes the likes of Freddie Prinze, Jr. look like an Oscar-winning superstar. Even when the script gets things right or the few times Columbus manages to ebulliently connect the dots, the actor lets them down, and save for one near-priceless bit on a dock between him and his costar, I'm finding it tough to come up with nice things to say about him.

The film isn't a total loss. Heroes actress Panettiere is solid, while Sydney White and The Return of Jezebel James star Carpenter continues to show he's deserving of better material than what he keeps getting offered. I also really liked relative newcomer Storm, the young woman making as indelible an impression here as a meteorological soothsaying Amanda Seyfried managed in Mean Girls.

Unfortunately, a few decent insights, a handful of humorous moments and three or four solid performances do not a movie make. For the most part, I Love You, Beth Cooper is a cumbersome disaster. Its star oozes zero charisma, while Columbus shows little of the touch even lesser efforts like Nine Months or Stepmom somehow managed. While not 2009's worst film, it certainly isn't anything to write home about, and anyone willing to profess their affinity for this eyesore should probably have their head examined.

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