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'Loser'? Yes

Loser is a tale of college decadence without humor or irony that treats serious issues in a shamefully casual manner.

By STEVE PERSALL, Times Film Critic

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000

Amy Heckerling's alleged comedy, Loser, lives down to its title for an hour before daring to compare itself to The Graduate, complete with Simon and Garfunkel singing and views on high of a lovelorn guy wandering a college campus.

Benefits of doubt can only be given so freely. Heckerling's arrogant plagiarism, completely without humor or irony, confirms every bad impression conveyed before. Loser isn't just a bad movie, but shamefully casual about the manner in which it stinks.

Heckerling deftly tapped into teenage joy and pressures of the past two decades with Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless, respectively. Either she's clueless about the new millennium's youth or the future of society is even bleaker than police reports lead us to believe. There isn't any joy in Loser, and the main pressures are deciding whose coattails to ride and what date-rape drugs to score.

You get the feeling that Heckerling doesn't like any of the people she created for this movie. That makes it especially difficult for viewers to like anyone on screen.

Not even Paul (Jason Biggs), a Midwest rube with a goofy hat, who's going to New York University on scholarship. His slack-jawed niceness is a disadvantage around the dorm where party animals waste their parents' tuition money. Paul's decadent roommates boot him out, then borrow his new place for orgies fueled by the so-called date rape drug, Rohypnol (roofies).

Paul is attracted to Dora (Mena Suvari), a classmate and waitress in an exotic dance club. She'll do almost anything for a buck including selling her eggs at a fertility lab. So much for Bohemian glamor. Dora is having an affair with her egotistic professor (Greg Kinnear) but accepts a date with Paul because, hey, he has Everclear concert tickets.

Dora never makes it to the show because she had 45 minutes before meeting Paul and a party offer presented itself. She winds up reeling from roofies and it's hinted that she was sexually exploited. Paul mopes around until Dora finally comes to her senses.

The date-rape drug angle is handled with shocking informality for a PG-13 movie. Add needless trips to Dora's strip club, a blackmail scheme for better grades and general moral bankruptcy and you wonder how many children will be dropped off at the multiplex for a crash course in depravity.

Heckerling thinks she's smart by pulling back from the seriousness of these issues. She can avoid an R rating by showing a professor and student obviously post-orgasm, as long as they're wearing underwear. She can show topless dancers as long as they're not topless and nothing shady happens. A half-dozen scenes of drug abuse are fine if there's one scene of mild payback for the dealers.

Dora could have any other kind of job and the plot would be intact. Pillow talk with her older lover could occur in a library instead of bed and not a word would have to be changed. Booze is still a more popular college buzz. Heckerling wants spice but not the flavor that would make Loser more realistic and therefore less tame.

Biggs is a pleasant enough actor whose career probably peaked with his pastry antics in American Pie. Suvari proved herself capable of handling far superior material in American Beauty. Kinnear looks much too comfortable in this unctuous role. Heckerling includes undistinguished cameos by comedians who are over the hill (Dan Aykroyd, Steven Wright, Andrea Martin) or approaching the hump (David Spade, Andy Dick).

Loser does have a catchy musical soundtrack, a better reason for the movie to exist than Heckerling's bed-wetting and condom-on-the-toothbrush gags. Dora nails the playlist as "self-loathing complaint rock I can dance to." Pretty apt description of the movie, too.


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