If you're a cynic, you might wonder when Amy Heckerling (director of the utterly vapid Clueless) lost touch with the youth of America. I'm inclined to believe it was in 1982, right after the release of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, her only good movie, which she made when she was only 28.
Now in her mid-forties, it's rather depressing to see Heckerling using the same jokes that worked almost two decades ago. And for a movie that uses "Dare to be different" as its tagline, it's almost pathetic that this story is lifted virtually verbatim from Fast Times, with the Mark Ratner-Stacy Hamilton romance going awry once again. Brian Backer, who starred as Ratner, is even back in a small role.
With American Pie alums Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari, Loser spins a story of a vaguely Midwestern, er, loser named Paul, who moves to New York to attend a vaguely NYU-like school on full scholarship. Instantly loathed for not being a philistine, Paul finds himself attracted to a nice yet vaguely Goth girl named Dora that sits next to him in English Lit. The only catch is that she's having an affair with the professor (Greg Kinnear).
Ultimately, Loser is your standard love triangle movie, tweaked to try and appeal to the coveted teen audience. This is half-successful, and Biggs and Suvari carry enough innate charm to make you laugh plenty. A boatload of comedian cameos from Steven Wright to Taylor Negron livens things up as well.
But the story -- and the comedy -- falls flat on the whole. There is no doubt from the second the characters are introduced how things are going to end, right down to the "What happens to..." text that tells you how miserable all the bad guys end up and how happy our heroes are. See also Fast Times at Ridgemont High. On top of this, the movie is just plain sloppy. Direction and editing are lackluster at best, and the film feels like it was tossed together in a week. Kinnear deserves special acclaim for managing to undo years of turning himself into a respectable actor with movies like As Good As It Gets, diving back into sitcom stereotypes with his overbearing professor role.
Amazingly, Loser is one of very few recent movies that draws power from its soundtrack, chock full of mid-to-late 1990s hits (examples: "No Myth," "Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)") that Heckerling must have gotten in an MTV compilation disc. Good tunes, all of them. Which means: if you find yourself bored between jokes on the screen, you can close your eyes and listen to the music.
I'm a loser, baby...