By Rob Blackwelder
If I see one more high school movie that uses a Literature class Shakespearelesson as a metaphor for raging hormones and whatever else the screenwriteris trying to put across, I swear I'm going to throttle someone.
But such ridiculously hackneyed plot devices are the leastof the problem with "Never Been Kissed," the most agonizing flickever made by Drew Barrymore, an endearing actress with regrettably badtaste in scripts.
The good news about "Never Been Kissed" is thatBarrymore -- playing a Chicago Sun-Times reporter who goes back to highschool for an undercover story about "today's teens" -- givesan adorably comical performance as a skittish, confirmed dork, more desperatethan ever for her second chance to fit in. What's more, the girl can takea pratfall like Dick Van Dyke in a dress.
But there's far more bad news than good: Barrymore is thesingular tent pole holding up this current clear-front-runner for the worstscreenplay of the year.
She starts the film as a convincingly mousy, reclusive,school marm-like copy editor who has never had a day of romance in herlife (thus the title). So naturally, Josie (Barrymore) begins her incognitoassignment cluelessly dressing like a Contempo Casuals reject (circa 1985)and falling in where she feels most comfortable -- with the science wonks.But at the insistence of her flatly drawn editor (John C. Reilly, "BoogieNights") she sucks up to the cool kidsand makes a fool of herself in the process.
Then her stuck-in-a-rut older brother (David Arquette)also enrolls, thinking this going back to high school thing would be agreat way to launch a baseball career (?), and begins to tutor his sadsack sister in how to be cool.
Before long (and per formula), she forgoes her true butnerdy friends for afternoons at the mall with a gaggle of girls whose spaghetti-strappedtank tops have more personality than they do. Ultimately, of course, shemust recover her conscience and give a speech at the prom about being trueto yourself.
It's an asinine scenario to be sure, but I was willingto overlook the connect-the-dots plot for a while because Barrymore wascracking me up. Among its few high points, the picture features funny andtragic flashbacks of a pimple-prone, brace-face Josie being stood up forthe prom in a hideous pink mylar dress -- and Barrymore carries it offbeautifully.
But the insistently inane and implausible circumstancesof the story soon crush all the joy out of watching Drew give great dork.
Let's skip right over the wild journalistic inaccuracies,like the fact that editors at respectable newspapers don't try to fabricatescandals about high school teachers and don't have high-tech surveillancevans to monitor undercover reporters wearing micro cameras built into theirjewelry.
Instead, let's focus on the way every pathetic jerk forwardin the plot just screams "setup!"
Josie nonsensical springboard into popularity comes when,for no discernible reason, the coolest guy in school (Jeremy Jordan) asksher to decide the theme for the prom. Jordan's king of the in-crowd statusis identified in his first scene by the way he decrees "'Rufus' ismy new cool word. Spread it around." (Sometimes I wonder if there'sa single screenwriter or director in Hollywood, save Amy Heckerling of"Fast Times" and "Clueless" fame, who ever attendeda real high school.)
Ironically, this kid has zero credibility as a class stud.The cocky dreamboat as an androgynous, doe-eyed, guitar-playing, 130-poundBeck look-a-like? At my high school, that kid hung out behind the art buildinggetting stoned and was beat up a lot by the football players.
Written by first-timers Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein,and director by Raja Gosnell ("Home Alone 3"), "Never BeenKissed" is a sloppy, discombobulated mess and I could give a dozenexamples of how it becomes exponentially insipid. But forget that longlist, here's the kicker: Arquette pretends to have dated Josie in one sceneand co-hosts a kegger as her bother later in the same reel. Hello?
Also to the movie's detriment, the romantic lead is a potentialpedophile. Josie's winsome Lit teacher (Michael Vartan) becomes smittenwith her before he finds out she's really 25. Ain't that sweet?
There have been worse movies this year -- two of them,"She'sAll That" and "Jawbreaker,"also high school pictures -- but those at least might have looked passableon paper. "Never Been Kissed" is rotten at the screenplay level,and as executive producer, Barrymore must take the blame. She green-lightedthis stinker.
She gets points for hiring Molly Shannon ("SaturdayNight Live") to play the Sun-Times office tramp and the intrinsicallynatural Leelee Sobieski (>"Deep Impact") as leader of the science geeks(although she has to be uglied up with granny glasses and headbands).
But if it weren't for Barrymore, Shannon and Sobieski,this would be the worst movie I've seen this year. To put it succinctly:Drew, stick to acting.
Run time: 107 mins
In Theaters: Friday 9th April 1999
Box Office Worldwide: $84.6M
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Production compaines: Fox 2000 Pictures, Bushwood Pictures, Flower Films (II), Never Been Kissed Productions
Contactmusic.com: 1 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 57%
Fresh: 46 Rotten: 35
IMDB: 6.0 / 10
Director: Raja Gosnell
Starring: Drew Barrymore as Josie Geller, David Arquette as Rob Geller, Michael Vartan as Sam Coulson, Molly Shannon as Anita, Jenny Bicks as Miss Haskell, Jessica Alba as Kirsten, Octavia Spencer as Cynthia, Garry Marshall as Rigfort, Sean Whalen as Merkin, Cress Williams as George, Sarah DeVincentis as Rhoda, Allen Covert as Roger in Op-Ed, Rock Reiser as Dutton, David Doty as Hairplug Bruns, Derek Morgan as Armcast Henson, Kathleen Marshall as Sun-Times Worker
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