Friday, June 23, 2000

Bland date

Movie: Boys and Girls

Posted on Fri, Jun 23, 2000 at 4:00 AM

**
Our Rating: 2.00

Here's a warning to anyone who might have seen the spirited trailer for "Boys and Girls," the second feature pairing She's All That director Robert Iscove with teenybopper dreamboat du jour Freddie Prinze Jr. A key scene in the preview, in which nerdy college boy Hunter (Jason Biggs of American Pie) is surrounded by a bevy of beautiful, willing Victoria's Secret supermodels, is as funny as this romantic would-be comedy gets. And it only appears in the finished film as an outtake, one that's shown after the story proper has come to its very predictable, foregone conclusion.

That sequence -- and the rest of the film's marketing campaign -- hold out the promise of a silly, raunchy sex comedy for the high-school crowd, something on the order of "American Pie" gone to college or a Road Trip without the road trip. It's hardly truth in advertising.

Instead, "Boys and Girls" is the flat, by-the-numbers tale of a young couple who scratch and claw their way toward real romance. They fight. They bicker. They bond. They separate temporarily. (Cue the "break-up" montage.) They finally prove that opposites indeed do attract, as revealed by a supposedly shocking plot twist. Yawn.

The blandness of Iscove's movie may owe something to the one-dimensional nature of these underdeveloped characters. Ryan (Prinze) is an uptight, reserved kid who spends much of the movie reacting with dismay to the activities of spontaneous, free-spirited Jennifer (Claire Forlani). Prinze, apparently the anointed new star of his generation, displays a presence that can be compared to that of a puppy, though Forlani ("Meet Joe Black") is more adequately described as coltish. Their pairing is devoid of chemistry.

Jennifer, all of 13 when she meets the 12-year-old Ryan, calls the kid "ugly" during their first encounter and frightens him with explicit sexual talk. In their second confrontation, the newly crowned homecoming queen offers more abuse by proclaiming him "dumb." Naturally, they become good friends not long after they meet again, this time on the sprawling campus of the University of California at Berkeley.

Their grown-up personalities are simple extensions of their childhood personae. She's a footloose Latin major living off campus with a rock musician. He's a buttoned-down engineering student who studies incessantly and spends all his free time flying out of state to hook up with his high-school sweetheart (Alyson Hannigan of "American Pie").

"Boys and Girls" has at least one thing in common with the Julia Roberts school of romantic comedy: Its secondary characters are more complex and interesting than the leads.

Biggs, last seen onscreen taking liberties with an innocent apple pie, makes the best of his role as a loveless, awkward young man trying on any and every identity that might prove appealing to the opposite sex. "It's a place where you can reinvent yourself," his Hunter says of college. "It's a place where you can find yourself," the more earnest (read: boring) Ryan contends. Biggs is effective as the class clown of the picture; too bad he isn't given more to do.

Also watchable -- and eminently more interesting than Jennifer -- are Ryan's steady college girlfriend, Megan (Heather Donahue of The Blair Witch Project), and Jennifer's ditzy roommate, Amy (Amanda Detmer of Final Destination). Amy is in therapy, and her behavior clues us in that she's probably been categorized as the classic "needy" type by her psychologist. The same shrink might label Jennifer and Ryan as individuals in denial regarding intimacy issues, with the former using casual sex as a substitute for love and the latter letting a friendship get in the way of real romance.

My analysis: "Boys and Girls," as its title implies, is little more than the story of a group of typically maladjusted middle-class kids, stumbling and fumbling their way through matters of love and sex. It's neither particularly clever nor full of laughs, and it's not a whit more illuminating than any given episode of "The Real World."

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