Screw the cheerleader, save the world? I Love You, Beth Cooper, bland-meister Chris Columbus’s painful riff on John Hughes’s high school comedies, features Heroes‘s Hayden Panettiere as Beth Cooper, captain of the cheerleading squad and crush-object for nerd Denis Cooverman (Paul Rust). During graduation, Denis, motivated by best friend and possible queer Rich’s (Jack T. Carpenter) advice, uses his valedictory address to announce his love for Beth. Both amused and touched, Beth agrees to stop by Denis’s graduation party with two of her friends (Lauren London and Lauren Storm), a decision that touches off a night of drinking, driving, and soul-searching for Denis, Beth, and company while they try to avoid Beth’s roid-raging asshole boyfriend (Shawn Roberts).
There’s something almost pathetic about a movie this useless; you could feel sorry for it if it weren’t such an unholy torture to sit through. Jokes fall flat with a deadly thud: Examples of things Columbus and screenwriter Larry Doyle think are funny include stepping in cow shit, men being forced to dress in women’s clothing, inconvenient boners—on and on, joke after tired, hackneyed joke. Panettiere brings absolutely nothing to the table here except for being no less cute than any other hot young actress, though she may have been better had she been given an actual character to play. Beth is nothing more than a cliché-riddled wish-fulfillment construct, and her attitude toward Denis seems to shift randomly from moment to moment. Rust lazily mugs it up—he seems to be trying to make a move on Michael Cera’s goofy-awkward niche but lacks Cera’s inventive wit and charm—and is so obviously too old for the part that his eventual romance with the much younger-looking Panettiere is more creepy than sweet.
Eventually, Beth Cooper tries to mine some sympathy for its stock characters via sappy speechifying and close-ups of Panettiere looking all misty-eyed, but this seems hypocritically at odds with the film’s dominant tone. Every character is a depthless stereotype ripe for ridicule: Denis the awkward dork, Beth the party-girl with low self-esteem, Beth’s friends the catty sluts, Rich the oh-so-hilariously closeted queer. It would be easy to call Beth Cooper casually sexist, homophobic, and racist, but such problems are less conscious choices than the inevitable result of Columbus and Doyle’s mean-spirited condescension. Denis may love Beth Cooper, but this movie does not.