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‘Loser’ is perfect title for such an awful film

SHARE ‘Loser’ is perfect title for such an awful film

LOSER — * — Jason Biggs, Mena Suvari, Greg Kinnear, Zak Orth, Tom Sadoski, Jimmi Simpson, Dan Aykroyd; rated PG-13 (profanity, vulgarity, nudity, brief violence, drug use); Carmike 12 and Ritz 15 Theaters; Century Theatres 16; Cinemark Jordan Landing Theaters; Gateway 8 Cinemas; Loews Cineplex Broadway Centre, Holladay Center and Midvalley Cinemas; Megaplex 17 at Jordan Commons.

Public flogging is no laughing matter. Then again, neither is "Loser," a film so painfully bad, it practically begs for such treatment for everyone involved in its making.

Yes, that might sound too harsh for what looks like just another lame teen comedy (such as the recent Freddie Prinze ordeal "Boys and Girls"). But this extremely unfunny film compounds its crimes by having no moral compass whatsoever.

For example, the subject of Rohypnol, the so-called "date-rape" drug, is hardly material to be taken lightly. Yet "Loser" uses it as a springboard for romance, and in a rather lighthearted fashion, no less.

That's pretty much the lowest point to which a comedy can sink, and it calls into question the motives of talents like actress Mena Suvari (from the Oscar-winning "American Beauty") and especially writer-director Amy Heckerling, who is largely responsible for this misbegotten mess.

The usually appealing Jason Biggs stars as the title character, Paul Tannek, a good-natured, small-town scholarship student who has a hard time fitting in at New York University. For one thing, his spoiled rich-boy roommates (Zak Orth, Tom Sadoski and Jimmi Simpson) think he's a hopeless square and pick on the hapless Paul upon his arrival in the really big city.

But they soon tire of the hard-working student cramping their style, so they have him kicked out of their dorm room. And in a highly unlikely turn, Paul winds up taking a room at a nearby veterinary hospital and ends up becoming a caretaker.

There, he also nurses back to health a fellow student, Dora Diamond (Mena Suvari), who had been drugged by his creepy dormmates. Not too surprisingly, Paul falls for the sweet but frumpy coed. Unfortunately, she's already in love with someone else — English Lit professor Edward Alcott (Greg Kinnear), who is reluctant to disclose a relationship with one of his students.

As improbable as some of these plot developments are, they could be worse. But it's hard to care about what happens to any of these characters, as poorly sketched-out as they are.

In fact, the script is shockingly bad, considering that Heckerling scored so many points with her Jane-Austen-gone-Valley-Girl comedy "Clueless."

Here, though, she appears to be the one who's clueless, as almost all of her jokes fall flat, including a series of extremely unfunny cameos by the likes of Steven Wright, Andy Dick and Andrea Martin.

And though the film tries to win cutesy and hipness points for sentimentality and a pop-music soundtrack, nothing really pans out, and Biggs and Suvari desperately try to invent some chemistry where none exists.

On the supporting side, Kinnear is surprisingly one-note, while Orth and newcomers Sadoski and Simpson are too irritating for words.

"Loser" is rated PG-13 for scattered profanity (including the so-called "R-rated" curse word), surprisingly crude humor and sexual discussions, glimpses of nude artwork and some skimpy dancers' costumes, a brief fistfight and drug use (marijuana and Rohypnol).

Running time: 98 minutes.

E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com