Paul Rust is 28, and looks it, maybe a little older. But in “I Love You, Beth Cooper” he plays Denis Cooverman, a high school valedictorian. Jack T. Carpenter, last seen playing a college student in “Sydney White” two years ago, is 24, and looks it. But he is also playing a graduating senior, Cooverman’s best friend Rich Munsch. As the movie opens, two actors who look like they should be playing guys in lab coats and stethoscopes wearing suits and carrying briefcases are wearing cap and gown and pretending — badly — that they are at their high school graduation. They look older than their principal, clue number one that no one is paying much attention to making sure this movie is going to work on any level.
Clues two through twelve that this movie is a mess come very quickly, and that is all that comes quickly in this slow-moving, sour-tasting disaster. It is possible — unlikely, but possible — that there is yet some unexplored humor to be made out of difficulty in opening a champagne bottle, but what this movie gives us instead is an excruciatingly drawn-out extended sequence with the most unimaginative of pay-offs. The characters race from one place to another for no purpose — either in story or in comedy. There are more locations than there are laughs.
Cooverman, the high school valedictorian, gets up to give his graduation speech and instead of the usual, “as we go forth,” he decides this would be a good time to tell the school’s mean girl that she is an insecure witch, the school bully that he is cruel because he was abused, Munsch that he should come out of the closet, and the school cheerleader, Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere of “Heroes”) that even though they have never spoken, he loves her. So the rest of the movie consists of the consequences of these poorly-timed revelations as Cooverman has to run from Cooper’s crazed and coked up boyfriend and Munsch keeps telling everyone he’s not gay. Oh, and everyone gets to break in on Cooverman’s parents having sex in a car. Cooverman’s father is played by Alan Ruck, who must have spent every minute on set wondering how he could be in both one of the all-time best teen movies (“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) and one of the worst (this one). Every single character is a dull paper-thin caricature, from Cooper’s roid rage boyfriend to Cooverman’s despised ex-girlfriend, whose unforgivable failing is that she is not pretty and she likes him.
The wild last night of high school party movie can be done well (“Can’t Hardly Wait,” “Dazed and Confused,” “American Graffiti”). Here, however, director Chris Columbus seems to have taken the tiredest and most predictable elements from each of them, wrung out anything resembling an authentic or appealing detail, and then dragged out every single set-piece to the agonizing breaking point. I can’t say I’ve never seen a clumsy attempt to open a champagne bottle go wrong on screen before, but I can say I have never seen one so poorly staged and lugubriously paced. It look Cooverman less time to get through high school than it felt like I spent watching this film.
Parents should know that this film includes extremely crude and raunchy material, constant sexual humor and irresponsible behavior, father encourages son to have casual sex and provides condoms, extended conversation about whether a character is gay, threesome, very vulgar humor, implied nudity, also teen drinking, drug use (off camera), several fight scenes, punches, falls, characters injured, and very strong language.
Family discussion: Have you ever decided to go public with something you’ve been keeping secret? How was Beth different from what Dennis expected?
If you like this, try: “16 Candles,” “Adventures in Babysitting”