"I Love You, Beth Cooper" is not a remake -- it just feels like one. A flat, tired rehash of teen movie story tropes, the film attempts to have it both ways by winkingly acknowledging its secondhand origins. The distance from shameless rip-off to loving homage may not be far, but it is a chasm this film fails to jump.
Directed by Chris Columbus, who made the first two "Harry Potter" films, and adapted by one-time "Simpsons" writer Larry Doyle from his own novel, the film opens on a high school graduation scene. In his valedictory speech, ultra-nerd Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust) declares his love for the out-of-his-league head cheerleader (Hayden Panettiere) of the title.
Social hierarchies are quickly established and obeyed, as Cooverman has a sidekick who obsessively quotes from movies and Cooper has her own female sidekick counterparts. (Cooverman's dad is even played by Alan Ruck, familiar as the best friend from "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" -- a nudge so unsubtle it leaves a bruise.) Cooverman's brave, foolish move sets in motion one wild night that includes chases and fights and parties and trying to buy booze and the losing of pants and jealous misunderstandings and unlikely hookups.
The film is largely hampered by an indecisive tone. In particular, violence is meted out with little to no repercussion -- Cooverman is beaten repeatedly, falls from a roof, is hit by a car and keeps a-going -- creating a cartoonish atmosphere that obstructs any genuine emotional momentum the filmmakers might want. Then there are the teasing intimations of sexiness -- a towel-drop from behind, a fleeting female side-flash and one lasciviously licked cream pastry. The film's one use of the "F-word" is to cadge a line from "Risky Business." Staying safely within the chaste confines of its PG-13 rating, "I Love You, Beth Cooper" is no "Private Lessons."
The film, though apparently set in the present day, lacks the plugged-in vibrancy of recent teen films such as "Superbad" or the underrated "The Girl Next Door," leaving "I Love You, Beth Cooper" feeling more like a sentimental look back than a more lively expression of contemporary youth. The story's main idea that Denis Cooverman's best days lay ahead of him and that someone like Beth Cooper may have already peaked reeks of the wish fulfillment of a nerd-domination agenda.
'I Love You, Beth Cooper'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual content, language, some teen drinking and drug references, and brief violence
Running time: 1 hour, 42 minutes
Playing: In general release