Like no one in his family before him, Paul Tannek (Jason Biggs) has been
accepted to college with a full scholarship. His father (Dan Aykroyd) leaves
him with some parting advice on how to make friends with people in the big
city: "Look them in the eye when they're talking to you and be interested in
what they're saying." Obviously this isn't going to work, as Paul soon finds
in dealing with his three alcoholic roommates, Noah (Jimmi Simpson), Adam
(Zak Orth), and Chris (Thomas Sadoski). The only high point in Paul's
college experience is meeting Dora Diamond (Mena Suvari). Dora is a cute,
slightly naive student who is struggling to make enough money to stay in
school while dating the sleazy Lit professor, Edward Alcott (Greg Kinnear).
These two hit it off wonderfully, both being outcasts of sorts. Yet, while
Paul grows more and more attracted to Dora, he finds himself constantly
living in the shadow of Edward, who Dora seems to be truly in love with. Add
to that constant problems arising from dealing with his now former
roommates, and Paul's college career isn't looking too bright.
Any teen movie like this is bound to possess three qualities: it's going to
be more than a touch on the predictable side; it's going to feature a lot of
young actors that older audiences have never heard of; and it's going to
have a soundtrack full of modern pop songs that will be played at the worst
times. Knowing the movie was going to be like this, I wondered to what
extent these three teen movie qualities would be displayed. Thankfully, only
one was prominent throughout the film. Like all teen movies (and an
unfortunate number of regular adult movies these days), "Loser" is about as
predictable as it can be. I don't mean it's as predictable as "The In Crowd"
(also released this week, and I was guessing what characters were going to
say before they said it in that movie), but you knew exactly how things had
to end in this movie, and sure enough it stays true to this form. As for the
other two traits, the cast may be comprised mainly of young actors, but most
people now recognize Jason Biggs ("American Pie"), and Mena Suvari
("American Beauty"); and Greg Kinnear ("Mystery Men") should be well known
to adult audiences. As for the soundtrack (which I dread in all teen
movies), comprised entirely of current popular songs, Amy Heckerling
("Clueless") proves remarkably adept at keeping it toned down and used only
in the appropriate scenes.
The acting in "Loser" is one of the film's few highpoints. Jason Biggs, who
turned in quite an amusing performance in the grossly overrated "American
Pie", is just about perfect for the role of small town boy Paul Tannek.
There's something about him (probably that goofy grin) that looks so naive
and, well, small town like, that we have no problem believing he is Paul
Tannek. Mena Suvari shows she has a remarkable acting range given what a
different character Dora is from Angela Hayes in "American Beauty". Not only
does she give a great performance here, but she looks and acts too cute for
words. Greg Kinnear is developing something of a reputation for playing
sleaze ball characters. His character of Captain Amazing in "Mystery Men"
was quite a jerk, his performance in "What Planet Are You From?" knocked him
up a few notches towards king of jerks, and the way he treats poor little
Mena in "Loser" nearly gives him the crown. Of the three roommates, only
newcomer Thomas Sadoski makes any sort of impression. What impression does
he make? That he can play a complete loser quite well (is that necessarily a
good thing though?). Watch for cameos from David Spade ("Tommy Boy") and
Andy Dick (television's "News radio").
I think one of the largest problems with "Loser" (besides the title, but
I'll go into that later) is that it never quite finds a target audience.
While I was trying to figure out what age group the movie applied to, the
following thought ran through my mind: "Teens will probably like - no, well,
adults will most likely - no, hm, little kids might - oh god no." After
thinking this, all I could conclude was there really was no audience for the
movie. The title is the second largest problem with the film for two
reasons: First, it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense, considering the
character of Paul Tannek. Paul's a little out of his element, but he's
smart, kind, quick-witted, and a heck of a fighter. He's apparently a loser
because he doesn't drink, do drugs, and take advantage of drunken girls?
That makes sense, and okay, my public service announcement is over. The
second reason it's a bad idea for a film title is because whenever a movie
gets a name like that (think "Screwed") it does poorly at the box office. My
final, and largest, complaint with the movie is a bit more simplistic. If
I'm not mistaken, "Loser" is being advertised as a comedy. During the entire
film I don't remember chuckling even once. Coming from me this is quite bad
because I've been told I giggle at air.
I have two other minor complaints, but they pale in comparison to that last
one. First, I would like to have seen more of Dan Aykroyd since the last
thing I remember him from was his horrendous performance in the otherwise
great "Grosse Pointe Blank", and I don't want to remember the man who
created "Ghostbusters" that way. My second small complaint was with Amy
Heckerling's pacing. It wasn't necessarily bad (for bad pacing, see the
afore mentioned "The In Crowd"), just a bit too languid given the kind of
movie this was. It can be easily assumed that teenagers would be the primary
target audience (though I don't believe they'll like this movie). I've
noticed teens tend to like films that move quickly (granted, they did seem
to enjoy "The Blair Witch Project" for some reason, and look how slowly that
moved). At its heart, "Loser" is a cute little movie which could have been a
lot better if its writer/director had bothered to stick some laughs into the
script. "Loser" runs a decent 95 minutes, and I'd recommend the movie to
fans of Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari, since both give great performances, and
to anyone who enjoys watching Greg Kinnear act like a sleaze. Even if you
fall into one of these categories, I'd suggest waiting for video or at least
catching a matinee. I give "Loser" three out of five stars.
Copyright © 2000 John Beachem