I Love You, Beth Cooper (PG-13) **

Jack Carpenter and Hayden Panettiere are shocked -- shocked, mind you -- by a hidden stash of condoms. JOE LEDERER / 20TH CENTUR

By Rene Rodriguez, The Miami Herald

The legacy of 1980s teen-comedy king John Hughes lives on in I Love You, Beth Cooper, which, aside from a few music cues and stray bits of vernacular, easily could have been made during Hughes’ influential reign. The similarities are simultaneously boon and curse to the movie: As pleasurable as revisiting the glossy, witty, misadventure-filled realm Hughes created for his adolescent characters is, you’ve also been here before. Often.

Adapted by screenwriter Larry Doyle from his novel and directed by Chris Columbus (who previously directed HomeAlone and Only the Lonely for Hughes after the filmmaker became a producer), the movie has an undeniable affection for its characters, which helps to counteract the familiarity of the plot.

During his graduation speech, the nerdy valedictorian Denis (Paul Rust) goes for broke and announces his longtime love for the cheerleader Beth (Hayden Panettiere), who barely knew Denis existed until then.

Beth is beautiful, popular and has a boyfriend, Kevin (Shawn Roberts), who lives in a perpetual state of ‘roid rage. Taken aback by such a public declaration, she agrees to swing by the graduation party Denis and his pal Rich (Jack Carpenter) are hosting that night. But soon after she arrives, an enraged Kevin shows up, eager to separate the rest of Denis from his head.

What ensues is a raucous journey through a night of boozy escapades, frantic chases, vehicular mishaps, and inevitable moments of soul bearing in which Denis and Beth discover the reality beneath their respective facades. Columbus, taking a break from directing such massive endeavors as the first two Harry Potter pictures or the musical Rent, does his mentor Hughes proud by hitting all the requisite notes, including the mandatory interlude at an out-of-control house party, a supporting character who has a revelation on the plot’s sidelines, and some PG-13 sex.

The problem with I Love You, Beth Cooper is that aside from Denis’ speech at the start, everything else seems familiar. The derivativeness won’t be a problem for the movie’s target audience, whose members may or may not have committed Sixteen Candles to memory. But they’d be better off watching the real deal instead of this well-intentioned and good-hearted, but ultimately rote, imitation.

Cast: Hayden Panettiere, Paul Rust, Jack Carpenter, Lauren London, Lauren Storm, Shawn Roberts, Alan Ruck, Cynthia Stevenson.

Director: Chris Columbus.

Screenwriter: Larry Doyle.

Producers: Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe.

A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 100 minutes. Vulgar language, sexual situations, adult themes. Playing at area theaters.


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