Everyone knows that three quarters of all breast implants and five eighths of all spec sitcom scripts are inspired by the simple words ”I’ll show them!” Scarred graduates, having survived the gauntlet that is high school, go on to triumph over their cooler, cuter, more popular classmates — now balder, thicker, slower — with accomplishments that far surpass the ephemeral pleasures of Fitting In.
Everyone knows that it’s nice to be vindicated; and everyone’s grateful not to have to relive those bruising adolescent years. Everyone, that is, except the makers of Never Been Kissed. In this labored miscalculation of a teen-trend comedy, Drew Barrymore plays Josie, a mousy 25-year-old newspaper copy editor whose life has been permanently stunted by her experiences as a braces-wearing dork during her high school Wonder Years.
Back then, ”Josie Grossie” suffered the Carrie-like horror of being invited to the prom by Mr. Popularity — as a joke. And now Josie has a chance to remake her destiny: She’s sent by the paper’s cantankerous owner (Garry Marshall, yelling a lot) to enroll undercover as a student and blow the lid off — prom night? Teen-on-teen psychological warfare? The Boss doesn’t know, possibly because neither do the participants in this derivative, inane production.
At first, naturally, Josie resumes her role as an easy, dweeby target for mean hip chicks. (Haven’t archaeologists recently dug up Roman pottery shards bearing the inscription Cave Heatherae?) Eventually, though, with the help of her good-time brother (David Arquette), who wants another chance at high school baseball glory, she blossoms. She gets in with the In Girls and then grandly discards them. She charms the class heartthrob (Jeremy Jordan). And she even works her 25-year-old schoolgirl magic on a susceptible, hunky English teacher (Michael Vartan). (Lecturing on Shakespeare, he spells out one of the movie’s themes for slow learners: ”Disguise can be liberating.”)
Never Been Kissed was directed by the numbers by Raja Gosnell (Home Alone 3) and written by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, but more important, this is Barrymore’s producing debut. And it’s all too easy to understand the star’s interest: Many of her recent endearing-plucky-ingenue roles — in Ever After, The Wedding Singer, and Home Fries — blur here into one generic Lovable Drew character that, custom-produced or not, traps the actress in goofy oopsadaisy behavior that does justice neither to her talents nor to her fans. Also embarrassing is the waste of SNL’s sophisticated Molly Shannon as Josie’s sex-crazed newspaper colleague, and dignified Leelee Sobieski as a high school brainiac whose character is dressed, with witless stereotyping, in pigtails and ugly glasses. D