Film Reviews

Look Who's Losin' It

Only in the movies could a kid who looks and acts like Jason Biggs be called a loser. Let's see: charming conversationalist, big smile, washboard abs? Oh, yeah, those'll make a guy unpopular for sure. About the only thing that's surprising about Biggs's character in Loser is that the filmmakers didn't stoop to putting him in glasses and hair grease to designate him as a nerd. He gets moderately cool hair. They did, however, give him a big dorky hat to compensate. Ah, progress.

But wait! There's hope for this movie yet! Writer-director Amy Heckerling had previously performed the miraculous feat of directing two teen movies that came to define their respective decades: Fast Times at Ridgemont High in the '80s and Clueless in the '90s. Sure, in between those gigs she directed the mediocre, so-called comedies National Lampoon's European Vacation, Look Who's Talking and Look Who's Talking Too. (She apparently drew the line at Look Who's Talking Now.) But maybe she just couldn't deal with narcissistic '70s survivors John Travolta and Chevy Chase. Back at the helm of a movie about youngsters, perhaps she could once again tap into the zeitgeist, especially with officially designated Next Big Things Biggs and Mena Suvari.

Alas, it was not to be.

Make no mistake, Suvari and Biggs have charm to burn, and they continue to indicate that they're likely to have great futures ahead. They're just not given much to work with. Heckerling, who also scripted, pushes her luck a little too far in trying to be hip for a third decade: cell phones, TV sitcom-based drinking games, Ron Popeil's hair-in-a-can, and references to Dr. Drew, Monty Python and Axl Rose are, like, so five years ago (or more), and a cameo by Everclear isn't exactly cutting edge. (Front man Art Alexakis already turned in a superior cameo in this year's Committed).

Perhaps it's unfair to expect so much from Heckerling, but since she did set such high standards for teen flicks, people will have high hopes. Of course, Heckerling doesn't help her case by forcing comparisons to The Graduate in a key scene. Even the soundtrack, featuring Everclear, Foo Fighters (contractually obligated to appear on every soundtrack that ever comes out, apparently), and Michael Penn's early-'90s hit "No Myth," feels shopworn. You'd think Sony could have at least sprung for the rights to the Beck song bearing the film's title.

Setting the hipness factor aside, however, Loser's script is frustratingly inconsistent. As Paul, a naive country boy who is shipped off to college in New York, Biggs is forced to alternate between displays of serious intelligence and incredible wide-eyed stupidity and clumsiness. This is a kid who's painfully aware that the Sears hip-hop pants with "pre-hoisted up" boxers that his mom bought him are lame, yet he wears equally awful clothes by choice and wonders why people think he looks like a geek. Suvari's Dora is somewhat more consistent, flaunting a strange combination of street smarts and bubbly naÏveté, but we never do find out exactly why she won't tell her mother that she's homeless. Nor is there a point to her being homeless, save for forcing her to choose eventually which man she'd like to run to for shelter: Paul, or her current lover, an English professor played by Greg Kinnear. Kinnear seems to be having a ball parodying the cocky character that he used to be back in his talk-show days, silencing his young lover with smarmy put-downs like "If I wanted all this teen angst, I'd watch reruns of My So-Called Life."

And Paul's unpleasant roommates (Zak Orth, Tom Sadoski and Jimmi Simpson, the last two being cinematic newcomers) are funny and have a great look. But they're not given any depth, just bizarre neon and vinyl outfits that are supposed to make them look spoiled but serve instead to make them look gay. There are also a few well-known comedians in key cameos, but Heckerling wastes them by giving them nothing funny to say or do. Unless, that is, you consider Andy Dick choking on a prune the height of hilarity.

The movie's not a complete waste, though. It's impossible to totally dislike any film that gives us young would-be lovers bonding over impromptu surgery on a nearly stillborn kitten. And during one party scene, in which Dora has had too much to drink, the trick photography creates what is honestly the best subjective depiction of drunkenness possibly ever put onscreen. But Biggs himself sums up the general tone of the piece early on, when describing what he imagines New Yorkers will be like: "They're all real sophisticated -- you've seen that Seinfeld show." If Seinfeld is, in fact, too sophisticated for you, then Loser may blow you away. Otherwise, it's just another teen flick that only slightly stands out.

KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Luke Y. Thompson