Asinine undercover- in- high school plot overshadows actress' enjoyable performance
If I see one more high school movie that uses a Literature class Shakespeare lesson as a metaphor for raging hormones and whatever else the screenwriter is trying to put across, I swear I'm going to throttle someone.
But such ridiculously hackneyed plot devices are the least of the problem with "Never Been Kissed," the most agonizing flick ever made by Drew Barrymore, an endearing actress with regrettably bad taste in scripts.
The good news about "Never Been Kissed" is that Barrymore -- playing a Chicago Sun-Times reporter who goes back to high school for an undercover story about "today's teens" -- gives an adorably comical performance as a skittish, confirmed dork, more desperate than ever for her second chance to fit in. What's more, the girl can take a pratfall like Dick Van Dyke in a dress.
But there's far more bad news than good: Barrymore is the singular tent pole holding up this current clear-front-runner for the worst screenplay of the year.
She starts the film as a convincingly mousy, reclusive, school marm-like copy editor who has never had a day of romance in her life (thus the title). So naturally, Josie (Barrymore) begins her incognito assignment cluelessly dressing like a Contempo Casuals reject (circa 1985) and falling in where she feels most comfortable -- with the science wonks. But at the insistence of her flatly drawn editor (John C. Reilly, "Boogie Nights") she sucks up to the cool kids and makes a fool of herself in the process.
Then her stuck-in-a-rut older brother (David Arquette) also enrolls, thinking this going back to high school thing would be a great way to launch a baseball career (?), and begins to tutor his sad sack sister in how to be cool.
Before long (and per formula), she forgoes her true but nerdy friends for afternoons at the mall with a gaggle of girls whose spaghetti-strapped tank tops have more personality than they do. Ultimately, of course, she must recover her conscience and give a speech at the prom about being true to yourself.
It's an asinine scenario to be sure, but I was willing to overlook the connect-the-dots plot for a while because Barrymore was cracking me up. Among its few high points, the picture features funny and tragic flashbacks of a pimple-prone, brace-face Josie being stood up for the prom in a hideous pink mylar dress -- and Barrymore carries it off beautifully.
But the insistently inane and implausible circumstances of the story soon crush all the joy out of watching Drew give great dork.
Let's skip right over the wild journalistic inaccuracies, like the fact that editors at respectable newspapers don't try to fabricate scandals about high school teachers and don't have high-tech surveillance vans to monitor undercover reporters wearing micro cameras built into their jewelry.
Instead, let's focus on the way every pathetic jerk forward in the plot just screams "setup!"
Josie nonsensical springboard into popularity comes when, for no discernible reason, the coolest guy in school (Jeremy Jordan) asks her to decide the theme for the prom. Jordan's king of the in-crowd status is identified in his first scene by the way he decrees "'Rufus' is my new cool word. Spread it around." (Sometimes I wonder if there's a single screenwriter or director in Hollywood, save Amy Heckerling of "Fast Times" and "Clueless" fame, who ever attended a real high school.)
Ironically, this kid has zero credibility as a class stud. The cocky dreamboat as an androgynous, doe-eyed, guitar-playing, 130-pound Beck look-a-like? At my high school, that kid hung out behind the art building getting stoned and was beat up a lot by the football players.
Written by first-timers Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, and director by Raja Gosnell ("Home Alone 3"), "Never Been Kissed" is a sloppy, discombobulated mess and I could give a dozen examples of how it becomes exponentially insipid. But forget that long list, here's the kicker: Arquette pretends to have dated Josie in one scene and co-hosts a kegger as her bother later in the same reel. Hello?
Also to the movie's detriment, the romantic lead is a potential pedophile. Josie's winsome Lit teacher (Michael Vartan) becomes smitten with her before he finds out she's really 25. Ain't that sweet?
There have been worse movies this year -- two of them, "She's All That" and "Jawbreaker," also high school pictures -- but those at least might have looked passable on paper. "Never Been Kissed" is rotten at the screenplay level, and as executive producer, Barrymore must take the blame. She green-lighted this stinker.
She gets points for hiring Molly Shannon ("Saturday Night Live") to play the Sun-Times office tramp and the intrinsically natural Leelee Sobieski ("Deep Imact") as leader of the science geeks (although she has to be uglied up with granny glasses and headbands).
But if it weren't for Barrymore, Shannon and Sobieski, this would be the worst movie I've seen this year. To put it succinctly: Drew, stick to acting.