It’s not a bad start: a script by a former Simpsons man – Larry Doyle – adapting his own film-friendly novel about a gawk-ward high schooler who turns his valedictorian speech into a confession of love for the most popular girl in class (the eponymous Beth Cooper).
And in the director’s chair, Chris Columbus, returning to the sort of kids-in-chaos material he once had a knack for (Home Alone, Adventures In Babysitting).
Alas, despite those shards of promise, the movie never captures the full flavour of Doyle’s funny, fast but emotionally-grounded book.
At least it shows smarts in casting the little-known Paul Rust – real-world nerdy as opposed to movie-nerdy – as protag Denis Cooverman, who’s whisked on a wild and crazy night when hurricane Cooper (Hayden Panettiere) miraculously appears on his doorstep.
Panettiere, meanwhile, acquits herself decently enough. By now the Heroes star can do the cutesy cheerleader thing in her sleep, but she also brings a worldly, mature edge to the role. Another bright spot is Alan Ruck, who runs away with his short screen time as Cooverman senior.
To his credit, Columbus clears room for a few quiet, tender moments amid the snowballing bedlam. But even some of these – Panettiere’s family backstory, for example – feel like the film clumsily reaching for your emotions in the manner of a timid teen trying to undo a bra.
What’s more, they don’t always sit easily alongside the clichés (bullying boyfriends, skanky rich girls) and sex gags, leaving the overall tone uncertain. Meanwhile, a cameo by Freaks And Geeks star Samm Levine will only make you pine for Judd Apatow’s superficially similar but infinitely superior TV series.
A would-be blend of John Hughes and American Pie that can’t find the right balance between heart and other body parts. It’s a madcap journey for sure, but one that ends up mired in predictable hugging/learning territory.