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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Loser

Starring: Jason Biggs, Mena Suvari
Director: Amy Heckerling
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 98 Minutes
Release Date: July 2000
Genres: Comedy, Romance

*Also starring: Greg Kinnear, Tom Sadoski, Zak Orth, Jimmi Simpson, Twink Caplan

Review by John Beachem
2 stars out of 4

Like no one in his family before him, Paul Tannek (Jason Biggs) has been accepted to college with a full scholarship. His father (Dan Aykroyd) leaves him with some parting advice on how to make friends with people in the big city: "Look them in the eye when they're talking to you and be interested in what they're saying." Obviously this isn't going to work, as Paul soon finds in dealing with his three alcoholic roommates, Noah (Jimmi Simpson), Adam (Zak Orth), and Chris (Thomas Sadoski). The only high point in Paul's college experience is meeting Dora Diamond (Mena Suvari). Dora is a cute, slightly naive student who is struggling to make enough money to stay in school while dating the sleazy Lit professor, Edward Alcott (Greg Kinnear). These two hit it off wonderfully, both being outcasts of sorts. Yet, while Paul grows more and more attracted to Dora, he finds himself constantly living in the shadow of Edward, who Dora seems to be truly in love with. Add to that constant problems arising from dealing with his now former roommates, and Paul's college career isn't looking too bright.

Any teen movie like this is bound to possess three qualities: it's going to be more than a touch on the predictable side; it's going to feature a lot of young actors that older audiences have never heard of; and it's going to have a soundtrack full of modern pop songs that will be played at the worst times. Knowing the movie was going to be like this, I wondered to what extent these three teen movie qualities would be displayed. Thankfully, only one was prominent throughout the film. Like all teen movies (and an unfortunate number of regular adult movies these days), "Loser" is about as predictable as it can be. I don't mean it's as predictable as "The In Crowd" (also released this week, and I was guessing what characters were going to say before they said it in that movie), but you knew exactly how things had to end in this movie, and sure enough it stays true to this form. As for the other two traits, the cast may be comprised mainly of young actors, but most people now recognize Jason Biggs ("American Pie"), and Mena Suvari ("American Beauty"); and Greg Kinnear ("Mystery Men") should be well known to adult audiences. As for the soundtrack (which I dread in all teen movies), comprised entirely of current popular songs, Amy Heckerling ("Clueless") proves remarkably adept at keeping it toned down and used only in the appropriate scenes.

The acting in "Loser" is one of the film's few highpoints. Jason Biggs, who turned in quite an amusing performance in the grossly overrated "American Pie", is just about perfect for the role of small town boy Paul Tannek. There's something about him (probably that goofy grin) that looks so naive and, well, small town like, that we have no problem believing he is Paul Tannek. Mena Suvari shows she has a remarkable acting range given what a different character Dora is from Angela Hayes in "American Beauty". Not only does she give a great performance here, but she looks and acts too cute for words. Greg Kinnear is developing something of a reputation for playing sleaze ball characters. His character of Captain Amazing in "Mystery Men" was quite a jerk, his performance in "What Planet Are You From?" knocked him up a few notches towards king of jerks, and the way he treats poor little Mena in "Loser" nearly gives him the crown. Of the three roommates, only newcomer Thomas Sadoski makes any sort of impression. What impression does he make? That he can play a complete loser quite well (is that necessarily a good thing though?). Watch for cameos from David Spade ("Tommy Boy") and Andy Dick (television's "News radio").

I think one of the largest problems with "Loser" (besides the title, but I'll go into that later) is that it never quite finds a target audience. While I was trying to figure out what age group the movie applied to, the following thought ran through my mind: "Teens will probably like - no, well, adults will most likely - no, hm, little kids might - oh god no." After thinking this, all I could conclude was there really was no audience for the movie. The title is the second largest problem with the film for two reasons: First, it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense, considering the character of Paul Tannek. Paul's a little out of his element, but he's smart, kind, quick-witted, and a heck of a fighter. He's apparently a loser because he doesn't drink, do drugs, and take advantage of drunken girls? That makes sense, and okay, my public service announcement is over. The second reason it's a bad idea for a film title is because whenever a movie gets a name like that (think "Screwed") it does poorly at the box office. My final, and largest, complaint with the movie is a bit more simplistic. If I'm not mistaken, "Loser" is being advertised as a comedy. During the entire film I don't remember chuckling even once. Coming from me this is quite bad because I've been told I giggle at air.

I have two other minor complaints, but they pale in comparison to that last one. First, I would like to have seen more of Dan Aykroyd since the last thing I remember him from was his horrendous performance in the otherwise great "Grosse Pointe Blank", and I don't want to remember the man who created "Ghostbusters" that way. My second small complaint was with Amy Heckerling's pacing. It wasn't necessarily bad (for bad pacing, see the afore mentioned "The In Crowd"), just a bit too languid given the kind of movie this was. It can be easily assumed that teenagers would be the primary target audience (though I don't believe they'll like this movie). I've noticed teens tend to like films that move quickly (granted, they did seem to enjoy "The Blair Witch Project" for some reason, and look how slowly that moved). At its heart, "Loser" is a cute little movie which could have been a lot better if its writer/director had bothered to stick some laughs into the script. "Loser" runs a decent 95 minutes, and I'd recommend the movie to fans of Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari, since both give great performances, and to anyone who enjoys watching Greg Kinnear act like a sleaze. Even if you fall into one of these categories, I'd suggest waiting for video or at least catching a matinee. I give "Loser" three out of five stars.

Copyright 2000 John Beachem

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