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Posted at 3:52 a.m. EST Friday, January 28, 2000

'DRIVE ME CRAZY' NOT THAT BAD AND NOT THAT GOOD

IT'S BETTER THAN THE AVERAGE WHO'S-DATING-WHO TEEN MOVIE. YOU'LL FIND THINGS TO LIKE DATE: Friday, October 1, 1999

Chuck Klosterman

Drive Me Crazy is like a teen movie that came out of a paint-by-number kit.

It pursues its young audience with an almost shameless disregard for logic, most notably with its title: It's the name of a popular Britney Spears song, even though it has absolutely nothing to do with anything in this story. None of the characters are going crazy, and one gets the impression that most of these kids wouldn't listen to Spears if she were performing in their high school cafeteria.

A description of the plot would seem like a cliche from beginning to end, and that is intentional. For the rest of eternity, someone will make a new incarnation of Drive Me Crazy every six months.

Of course, what critics tend to ignore is the fact that every six months the core audience for these movies is seeing these cliches for the very first time. Aging social commentators are quick to insist that contemporary retreads are some sort of cultural tragedy, but they forget that every youth's experience is intrinsically original.

A movie like Drive Me Crazy shouldn't be judged against The English Patient; it should be judged against all the other derivative, adolescent mind-candy that's based on the premise of a popular kid dating an unpopular kid. And within those parameters, Drive Me Crazy is better than average: It's sometimes funny and never too sweet.

For those keeping score at home, this is one of those stories where a girl from `The In Crowd` convinces the socially retarded rebel next door to pose as her boyfriend. (It's sort of like Pretty in Pink -- with the genders reversed -- and mixed with the insincerity of Can't Buy Me Love and She's All That.)

The popular girl is played by Melissa Joan Hart, best known as the star of a popular TV show called Clarissa the Teen-age Vampire Slayer In Dawson's Party of Freaks and Geeks. As of late, Hart has been trying to shed her `nice girl` image (she's virtually exploding on the cover of Maxim), and the early moments of Drive Me Crazy are ridiculously preoccupied with her newly discovered bosom.

The boy in this picture is played by Adrian Grenier, a `serious` teen-age actor who was in Woody Allen's Celebrity and stars in the upcoming The Adventures of Sebastian Cole. Grenier continues to show promise as a thespian, but the most interesting part of this film has little to do with his relationship with Hart. What's fascinating about Drive Me Crazy is its subtext, which was clearly influenced by the April shootings in Littleton, Colo.

Traditionally, the theme of teen movies is about outcast protagonists who literally crush their enemies (and those enemies are inevitably the popular kids). That's not the case here; the underlying theme of Drive Me Crazy is that every tier of the high school caste system is essentially the same (there are both good jocks and bad jocks, and the alienated coffeehouse intellectuals are no less close-minded than anyone else).

What's a little spooky, however, is that the only truly sinister character (played by Susan May Pratt) is painted as the worst of both Columbine High worlds: She's rich and pretty and popular, but still obviously Gothic (she has pale skin, jet black hair and is accused of `sleeping in a coffin`).

If you're willing to look beyond the superficial dialogue, a movie like Drive Me Crazy is chock-full of meaning and semidisturbing sociology. Quite simply, there's more to like about this movie than you'd probably expect (certainly more than I did).

Besides, the all-girl band the Donnas performs a cover of REO Speedwagon's Keep On Lovin' You at the big high school dance. That alone is worth $7.50.

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