Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jason Biggs, Mena Suvari, Zak Orth, Thomas Sadoski, Jimmi Simpson, Greg Kinnear, Dan Aykroyd, Twink Caplan, Robert Miano
Written by: Amy Heckerling
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for drug content, crude sexual material and language
Running Time: 98
Date: 07/20/2000

Loser (2000)

1 Star (out of 4)

Just Plain Lost

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Loser is the kind of movie where people talk to each other, and though what's really being said is painfully obvious to the audience, the characters on the screen are too damn dumb to pick up on it. And so it goes for the entire length of the movie, one of the worst I've seen this year.

That's surprising, because Loser is written and directed by Amy Heckerling, who made one of the best comedies of the 1990s with Clueless (1995). Both are original screenplays by Heckerling and both were directed by her with a certain amount of artistic freedom, so I wonder what went wrong. Not a shred -- not a hair -- of what made Clueless great exists in Loser.

Let's start with the plot, which has Jason Biggs (from last year's American Pie) as Paul Tannek, a small-town doofus who goes off to New York for college. He's supposed to be lovable, but he's really annoying and stays that way through the entire 98 minutes. He's so naive you'd never expect that he'd had any contact with human beings at all; it's like he came from outer space rather than a small town. He also does poor pratfalls every two minutes that actually make you yearn for the subtle grace of Chevy Chase. Only one person at school will talk to him and that's Dora Diamond (Mena Suvari, from last year's American Beauty). She's another outcast who's in love with an evil teacher (Greg Kinnear). It's painful, not funny, to see her get stomped on by everyone despite the fact that her self-esteem is very low. Can our loser win her heart away from the evil teacher? Can you stand the suspense?

These are the big problems, but the movie is also riddled with little problems. Paul gets stuck rooming with three nasty rich kids who play vicious pranks on everyone. These kids also seem like they're from outer space. They dress in weird combinations of 80s glam rock and mid 90s MTV leftovers. They kick Paul Tannek out of the dorm room and he ends up staying in the back room of a busy New York pet hospital. Busy, that is, only the first time we see it. After that, all the doctors disappear and Paul has the place to himself, day and night, for the rest of the movie. Not only that, but in the few weeks he stays there, he somehow develops enough medical knowledge to save the life of a baby kitten stuck in its birth membrane. (I'm not kidding here.)

Even worse, when Paul is at a particularly low point, Heckerling shows him wandering around New York from a high crane shot with Simon and Garfunkel's "Scarborough Fair" (from 1967's The Graduate) playing on the soundtrack. Are we supposed to take this seriously? Moreover, Biggs has a father (Dan Aykroyd), to whom he can supposedly tell anything, but who doesn't seem to care at all about Paul's highly questionable living conditions. He's more concerned with Paul's failed social life. Too bad we're not.

Even the music seems horribly dated and uncool. I doubt any college student today would actually listen to Everclear, much less take a girl to see them in concert. As far as I know, they're a corporate sellout band whose five minutes were up four years ago. All the music in the movie is like that. Get this: the music supervisor is Elliot Lurie, who was a member of Looking Glass, the band that recorded the hit "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)" in 1972. I'd say I'm safe in guessing that we're a little out of date here.

The year 2000 so far has been, hands down, the worst movie year I can remember. The competition is stiffer this year for Worst Movie of the Year than it is for Best Movie (I've got fifteen candidates for Worst Movie and only six for Best Movie). Loser is so bad it's already among the top contenders. Congratulations.

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