What's the world coming to when Amy Heckerling -- writer-director of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Clueless," and the one true comedic visionary of teen cinema -- is responsible for the most mundane, most out-of-touch college romance of the year?
"Loser" -- the title says it all -- is a milksop love story about a mollycoddle hayseed (Jason Biggs, "American Pie") going off the school in the big city, falling meekly in love with a spunky, punky co-ed with raccoon eyeliner and low self-esteem (Mena Suvari, "American Beauty"), and becoming her pathetic puppy dog while she debases herself in an affair with a manipulative professor (Greg Kinnear).
He's a doormat without an iota of personality, but we're supposed to like him because he's earnest and feel sorry for him because his ruthlessly incisive, party dude roommates take advantage of his friendlessness and naiveté.
She's an irritatingly saccharine and badly-coifed empty vessel who speaks in a perpetual whine, but we're supposed to take her under our collective wing because she's direly in need of rescuing, not having the good sense to walk away from a unconscionable lover who treats her like a prostitute maid.
Hey, get some therapy and give me back my eight bucks.
But the movie's problems hardly begin or end with its beyond-bland leads. Writer-director Heckerling has simply lost her grip on both youth culture and narrative technique.
She uses dated, sniveling alt pop mixed with Randy Newman (!) and Simon and Garfunkel tunes (employed to draw a shameless parallel to "The Graduate") as a crutch to usher "Loser" through a story that turns a blind eye to Suvari's deep-seeded dignity dilemma in favor of a simplistic, implausible geek-as-white knight fantasy.
She doesn't seem to realize how suspiciously fey and five-years-behind Biggs' Beck-wannabe roommates look or how appallingly inappropriate it is to pass off their casual habit of slipping ruffies in girls' drinks as if it were some modern rite of passage.
An embarrassingly inept and downright boring movie that started going wrong almost the minute Heckerling put pen to paper, the characters are cardboard, major scenes feel utterly staged, minor details ring conspicuously false (she uses obvious stock footage of "Cabaret" when Biggs and Suvari sneak into a Broadway play) and every significant plot development serves only to reinforce the perception that the hero is a yutz.
Why does he let his fiendishly mean roommates host a booze-o-rama party at the basement veterinary clinic where he bunks up after they kick him out? (Don't get me started on the absurdity of that development!) Why would he believe them when they sully Suvari's reputation? Why does he stand by while this guileless girl he loves gets screwed and screwed over by an unethical prof? For that matter, what does he even see in this shallow, vanilla rebel with fishnet stockings and without discretion? I mean, besides her being the only person in New York who doesn't laugh at his dorky, plaid, ear-flapped hat?
It's impossible to get behind such a dimwitted chump.
Has Amy Heckerling finally gotten too old to write fresh teen fare with indelible characters? If this wet thud of a movie is any indication, the answer is a resounding "yes."
This already miserable cinematic year made it all the way to July without a clear front-runner for worst picture. But boy oh boy is "Loser" over-qualified for that dubious distinction.