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Posted at 4:57 a.m. EST Wednesday, January 26, 2000

IS IT DUMB OR DEEP? CAN'T HARDLY TELL

'CAN'T HARDLY WAIT' WOULD BE BETTER IF IT ABANDONED ALL SERIOUSNESS AND STUCK TO BEING A WONDERFULLY STUPID COMEDY. DATE: Friday, June 12, 1998

Mark Dawidziak

Beacon Journal's critic-at-large.

Can't Hardly Wait can't hardly decide what kind of film it wants to be.

The commercials suggest a low-IQ high school comedy falling somewhere between Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Porky's. And there are moronic moments when Can't Hardly Wait is just that wonderfully stupid.

Indeed, this would be an infinitely better movie if it threw off any pretense of intelligence and sensitivity. It's a comedy that should have taken its motto from the title of a Jim Carrey hit -- Dumb and Dumber.

Yes, there's a place for stupid comedy (everything from the Three Stooges to the Naked Gun films), but that isn't a place where you intermittently ask to be taken oh-so seriously.

That's the problem with Can't Hardly Wait, which stars such appealing young performers as Jennifer Love Hewitt (I Know What You Did Last Summer), Ethan Embry (one of the rock stars in Tom Hanks' That Thing You Do!), Lauren Ambrose (one of Kevin Kline's students in In & Out) and Seth Green (Oz on Buffy the Vampire Slayer).

While this lowbrow high school hodgepodge wants to be Fast Times at Ridgemont High, it also wants to be American Graffiti and Sixteen Candles and Clueless and House Party and Say Anything and Porky's and Dazed and Confused and the dozens of other comedies from which it keeps borrowing. It ends up being only dazed and confused (literally).

By turns, Can't Hardly Wait is clever and idiotic, profound and crude, giddy and sober, contemporary and nostalgic, raw and romantic. The writing-directing team of Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont, making their debut at the helm of a Hollywood production, throw all of this stuff into their blender, hoping it will mix.

Sorry, there are too many oil-and-water ingredients in this blend. At one point, Can't Hardly Wait is sneering at everything in sight. In the next second, it turns into something to be sneered and jeered off the screen.

At one point, Kaplan and Elfont are asking us to feel a character's pain. In the next second, they're using another character's pain as the easy target for derision and ridicule.

The school's star jock (Peter Facinelli), for instance, is portrayed as a jerk because he mindlessly classifies smarter students as geeks and nerds. Then the movie turns around and just as viciously demeans such students in the same mindless manner.

Which is it, folks? The class of American Graffiti or the crass of Porky's? Perhaps both extremes could operate in the same script, but not in anything as mechanical and mediocre as Can't Hardly Wait.

Embry plays aspiring writer Preston Meyers, who has had a crush on prom queen Amanda Beckett (Hewitt) since freshman year. Hoping to be free for the summer after graduation, football star Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli) has broken up with Amanda, giving Preston the chance to express his long-suppressed feelings.

Can he work up the nerve to approach her at the big graduation party blowout? Preston's confidante, class cynic Denise Fleming (Ambrose), thinks he's setting himself up for heartache.

Also at the party are street-talking Kenny Fisher (Green) and William Lichter (Charlie Korsmo), the class genius plotting revenge against the bullying Mike.

Not even well-placed appearances by TV stars Jenna Elfman (Dharma & Greg), Jerry O'Connell (Sliders) and Melissa Joan Hart (Sabrina the Teenage Witch) help much, although Can't Hardly Wait does contain enough laughs to be recommended as the lightest of lightweight diversions.

Just don't turn the title into a question when you're buying a ticket to this movie. Can't hardly wait? Believe me, you can.

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