Before the credits are over for the fast and funny "Can't Hardly Wait" the word ripples through the ranks of capped-and-gowned seniors of Huntington Hills High that the unthinkable has happened: The class of '98's top jock (Peter Facinelli) and its perennial prom queen (Jennifer Love Hewitt) have broken up.
This is news of seismic implications--especially for nice-looking but timid Preston (Ethan Embry), who has had a crush on Hewitt's gorgeous Amanda since they were freshmen. As it happens, one of their classmates is throwing a graduation party at her lavish, elegant home while her parents are conveniently away. Will Preston take advantage of what may well be his last chance to make his feelings known to Amanda?
Writer-directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, in their directorial debuts, know where they're going and how to get there. They cram their background with no end of incident, comic gags, sharp asides and raucous, increasingly out-of-control "Animal House" boorishness.
But they're also able to bring to life not only Facinelli's bewildered Mike and Hewitt's newly perceptive Amanda but also Seth Green's Kenny, who mistakenly thinks it's cool to talk and dress like a black rapper, and Lauren Ambrose's Denise, a redhead who's never resorted to hiding her superior intelligence. And don't forget William (Charlie Korsmo), the class valedictorian, a constant object of peer contempt, who proves to be a closet rock 'n' roller--and is bent upon vengeance against his principal tormentor, Mike.
For all its nonstop energy and high spirits, "Can't Hardly Wait" allows its characters to emerge as fully dimensional individuals; they've been written with care and perception and played with equal aplomb by a roster of talented young actors.
For Amanda, graduation proves to be a wake-up call: She can no longer deny that Mike, who has given her a sense of security throughout high school, is an immature jerk who hasn't grown at all over the past four years.
Mike, in turn, is faced with the instant eroding of his heretofore unchallenged authority, as he has a hard time persuading his best pals to break up with their girlfriends simply because he's no longer with Amanda. It clearly never occurred to Mike that being a high school hero would come to an abrupt end with graduation--or that once apart from the gracious Amanda that so many, especially the girls, consider him an oaf.
Trapped together in an upstairs bathroom, Denise and Kenny discover that layers of bad attitudes toward each other have been gradually building up since second grade. You could wish that would-be writer Preston weren't such a tiresomely dreamy nerd, but he learns a lot of life in a brief encounter with a stripper ("Dharma & Greg's" Jenna Elfman, a standout in a cameo role) as they vie for the same pay phone at 2 in the morning; she ends up advising him that "fate can take you only so far." Her serious point is presented in an amusing context typical of the film: Her big regret is that when Scott Baio once made an appearance at the local mall she didn't try to make direct contact.
"Can't Hardly Wait" bounces along without ever missing a beat. With summer vacation imminent, its arrival is an instance of perfect timing.
* MPAA rating: PG-13, for teen drinking and sexuality, and for language. Times guidelines: The film is suitable for teens; sexuality is presented with discretion and drinking is not endorsed.
'Can't Hardly Wait'
Jennifer Love Hewitt: Amanda
Ethan Embry: Preston
Charlie Korsmo: William
Lauren Ambrose: Denise
Peter Facinelli: Mike
Seth Green: Kenny
A Columbia Pictures presentation of a Tall Trees production. Writers-directors Harry Elfont & Deborah Kaplan. Producers Jenno Topping and Betty Thomas. Cinematographer Lloyd Ahern. Editor Michael Jablow. Costumes Mark Bridges. Music David Kitay and Matthew Sweet. Executive music producer Ralph Sall. Production designer Marcia Hinds-Johnson. Art director Bo Johnson. Set decorator Jan Bergstrom. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.