It's hard to love 'Beth Cooper'

Give Panettiere credit for muddling through the script.

July 9, 2009 

"I Love You, Beth Cooper" would like to be this year's "Superbad," a raucous teen sex comedy. But it's just super bad.

It's easy to hate this movie. There's a script that comes across like pieced-together letters to Penthouse magazine, misguided direction and a leading man who redefines the term dull.

Larry Doyle's pathetic script, based on his own book, deals with graduation night after school geek and valedictorian Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) declares his unrequited love for school hottie Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere). He expresses his feelings for her -- and other classmates -- through his graduation speech.

The aftermath is a series of events that are trite. Most of the plot points have Denis dodging the brutal assaults of those he offended while spending time with Beth.

Doyle's script never commits to making this a sweet romance like "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" or an over-the-top sex romp like "American Pie." His idea of a funny plot twist is to have Beth and her babe buddies sneak into their old high school after dark to take showers.

What hurts the story the most is Doyle's indecision with Beth. At times it seems like she is a heartless harpy -- such as attending Denis' poor excuse for a graduation party just to spite her psychotic boyfriend. Then, Doyle makes a left turn and paints Beth as a misunderstood beauty.

Give Panettiere props for trying to make the role work despite the film being such a hopeless cause.

Director Chris Columbus, whose first film was the similar, but far more entertaining "Adventures in Babysitting," gets caught up in Doyle's flip-flopping.

The film occasionally stumbles upon the quick tempo needed to sustain this kind of mindless comedy. Then the director puts the brakes on to allow Beth and Denis to talk about their feelings. If the characters had been more interesting, these emotional moments might have had some punch.

At one point, Denis tells Beth, "This is not funny anymore."

She replies, "Who said it was supposed to be fun?"

That sums up "I Love You, Beth Cooper" in a nutshell.

TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at rbentley@fresnobee.com or (559) 441-6355. Read his blog at Copyright 2014 . All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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