A high-spirited, synthetically raucous house-party comedy, Can’t Hardly Wait (Columbia), which is set on one long high school graduation night (gee, what an original idea!), could well do for early John Hughes what Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer did for the teen slasher thriller—that is, re-spin it for a generation that was barely in kindergarten when the originals first played in multiplexes. The characters in Can’t Hardly Wait exist entirely in prepackaged pop-culture boxes. They’re recombinant youth-movie cliches, the majority of them derived from those glorious ancient days of the mid-to-late ’80s.
The hunky bruiser jock (Peter Facinelli), for instance, isn’t all that different from the one in Sixteen Candles, only now he looks and acts exactly like a hawkish version of Tom Cruise in his God-how-I-love-my-teeth Cocktail phase. There’s a Molly Ringwald clone (Lauren Ambrose), pretty and alienated, with short orange hair and a petulant remark for every occasion (that’s the sum total of her “rebel” attitude), and, in the film’s token bit of ’90s-specific shtick, there’s a runty white imitation homeboy (Seth Green), who wraps his most threatening inner-city lisp around lines like “I fig-yuh all da bitches in class are gonna be at dat paw-ty!” He and the Ringwald ringer start out as enemies but end up locked in a bathroom, where they engage in vintage Breakfast Club bonding. There’s also a spindly computer doofus (Charlie Korsmo) who steals the night with his improbably impassioned performance of Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City” (A scene I vastly preferred to Jon Cryer’s lip-synched “Try a Little Tenderness” in Pretty in Pink).
Oops!—I almost forgot to mention the main characters. Jennifer Love Hewitt is Amanda, the beautiful, relentlessly coveted princess who learns what a superficial person she is when she gets dumped by the evil jock, and Ethan Embry is Preston, the gawky, and I mean gawky, romantic (he looks like his eyes are about to roll out of his head) who finally gets the chance to tell Amanda that he loves her. It’s not just that he’s attracted to her. He loves her for her…mind (or something). Hewitt, with her wistful Lily Tomlin dimples, is very sweet, but in this movie she has more hair than personality.
Can’t Hardly Wait was written and directed by the team of Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan (they coscripted A Very Brady Sequel), who keep their camera darting past beer-soaked make-out sessions and throwaway gags such as a stoner licking a slice of watermelon. They also flood the soundtrack with saucy dance-party hits like “Funky Cold Medina” and even manage to turn Barry Manilow into a patron muse. Can’t Hardly Wait is agreeably mindless generation-next trash, but it leaves you hungry for a movie in which the characters are more than walking screenwriter index cards. B-