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'Loser' Generally Is One

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 21, 2000

   


    'Loser' Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari in "Loser." (Sony)
In "Loser," Jason Biggs plays the saint and Mena Suvari the wild spirit. He's a scholarship nerd with a dorky hunter's cap. She's a wacky, sexy student who sleeps with her rakish English professor. At New York University, they're both outsiders who find themselves thrown together by circumstance.

Of course, what's really going on are two emerging stars looking to build their box office followings with the usual Hollywood rite of passage: a second-rate romantic comedy. While the headliners dilly-dally around each other's hearts, a supporting cast of other contenders for bigger, wackier roles (Zak Orth, Jimmi Simpson and Thomas Sadoski) do the funny stuff.

There's something for everyone – the actors who need to boost their screen-time mileage and the audience that has come to watch that long-faced guy from "American Pie and the seductive teenager from "American Beauty" get together.

Biggs is Paul Tannek, a small-town escapee who lands in the big city of New York, where as an NYU student he's thrown in with the wolves: roommates Chris (Sadoski), Adam (Orth) and Noah (Simpson), who smoke dope, chase women and can't wait to dump Paul.

Meanwhile, Dora Diamond (Suvari), a broke and homeless student, is stupidly involved with snotty English professor Edward Alcott (Greg Kinnear playing the usual slime), who has nothing but disdain for his MTV-generation students.

When Paul's roommates, horrified at this saintly geek in their grungy midst, squeeze him out, Paul gets digs in a veterinarian hospital. But his weird new crib is a great place for night-time parties, it turns out. And Paul's ex-roomies become his friends again, so they can play music and ply women with date-rape drugs.

Meanwhile, the down-and-out Dora – who doesn't seem to understand how much Alcott is abusing her – needs a place and some friendly companionship. Paul tries to be there for everyone, leaving himself out of the picture. When will wacky Dora ever notice what a mensch he is?

Biggs has his funny side, although he's not wildly hilarious. Suvari is livelier than she is dramaturgically gifted. Is there any magic here? Hardly. Despite a few offbeat situations – I guess it isn't every day you see a character sleeping and working in a vet hospital – this film's never more than serviceable.

As soon as you remember that writer-director Amy Heckerling made "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and the wicked, charming "Clueless," the general blandness of this movie screams even louder. As I walked out of this movie, I wondered what I'd remember about it 10 months from now – when I see it nestled in the "already viewed" bin at Blockbuster. I figure the only thing the memory banks will produce is that hunter's cap. After which my thoughts will move on to Elmer Fudd.

LOSER (PG-13, 95 minutes) – Contains sexual situations, strong language, profligate drinking and use of date-rape drugs.

 

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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