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(2000) (Freddie Prinze, Jr., Claire Forlani) (PG-13)

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Romantic Comedy: Two college students become friends while comparing notes about dating and relationships before realizing that they're falling for one another.
Ryan (FREDDIE PRINZE, JR.) and Jennifer (CLAIRE FORLANI) are clear opposites of one another, and always have been, but they have a definite knack for repeatedly running into each other. After briefly meeting on an airplane ride four years earlier, it's now high school and Ryan is a classic dweeb and control freak, needing to know and plan every aspect of his life. Jennifer, on the other hand, is a freewheeling spirit who hates plans and commitments.

The two don't really get to know each other, however, until Ryan attends the University of California, Berkeley, where Jennifer is already a sophomore. Due to their previously awkward and strained friendship, the two get on with their studies - he engineering and she Latin - but manage to keep bumping into each other, eventually becoming loose friends who commiserate about romance, dating and relationships.

Their respective roommates, Hunter (JASON BIGGS) and Amy (AMANDA DETMER), can see that the two of them are attracted to one another, and can't believe they don't see it or won't allow themselves to admit it. Nonetheless, the two continue through college, with Jennifer continuing to date various guys while Ryan doesn't, seemingly using her as his surrogate and thus safe "girl-friend."

Yet, the two become closer and despite Ryan eventually dating another student, Megan (HEATHER DONAHUE), they end up in bed together. From that point on, as they teeter between friendship and love, the two must figure out what's right and wrong for themselves as individuals, friends and possible lovers.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Being a trend-setting medium, movies are known for influencing everyday life by introducing styles, behavior and dress that impressionable minds and egos seemingly want and love to imitate. Probably the most influential bit, however, are catch phrases and slogans heard in movies and/or given to them that soon permeate everyday discussions.

Beyond the obvious, "There's no business like show business," there was "In space, no one can hear you scream" and "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water," as well as "You talkin' to me?" and "Show me the money!"

Inside the beast that is Hollywood, however, the spoken and unspoken catch phrase is "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." You see, as a collective entity, Hollywood abhors originality or fresh ideas (since they're risky and not a proven commodity), and instead loves repeating and delivering the same product over and over. As such, for every original hit film that comes along, a plethora of clones, imitators and wannabes follow, all hoping to ride the coattails of the original's success.

That explains all of the sequels, recycled movies and old TV shows, and the cookie-cutter films that all seem to have come off the same cinematic assembly line. Among the many genres available to the moviegoing public, none is any guiltier of that than the romantic comedy.

Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not some coldhearted and cynical critic who hates such films. On the contrary, I'll readily admit to heartily enjoying plenty of those films, but usually only when they include sharp and witty observations and dialogue, inspired, funny and/or touching performances, and at least some sort of deviation or twist on the underlying formulaic plot that fuels and drives most of them.

If none of that happens, however, such films - no matter how well or competently made - quickly become tedious and laborious experiences through which one must sit. The latest attempt in the genre, "Boys and Girls," is one such film. As such, it follows the standard trajectory of the boy and girl who meet but don't initially get along, eventually become friends (accompanied by an upbeat musical montage) and then lovers, but split up and go their separate ways (but pine for each other during at least the second music montage), all before realizing they're perfect for each other and then getting back together again to live happily ever after (or at least through the end credit roll).

Who knows what that says about Hollywood's perception of what audiences want or, conversely, what audiences enjoy repeatedly watching. Perhaps it's the fairy tale ending, the hope that lost love can be rekindled, or simply the fact that since such films cover the gamut of such relationships, nearly every audience member can identify with some part of the story or character within it.

Whatever the case, such films offer few, if any, surprises and unfold like clockwork, thus providing a safe but unremarkable moviegoing experience. That's certainly the case with this film, but director Robert Iscove (TV's "Cinderella") takes that and the "ain't broke/no fix" scenario a bit too far. That's not only because the film follow the same tracks, but also because its individual scenes and elements have a certain familiar ring to them.

His last film, "She's All That," featured Freddie Prinze, Jr. in a teen-based romantic comedy that followed the standard formula, featured an upbeat dance sequence where all of the young bodies moved in unison as if they attended choreography school together, and included some stylistic segue shots of characters seamlessly moving from one scene into a flashback one.

Here, Freddie Prinze, Jr. stars in romantic comedy focusing on teen and early twenty-something college students that doesn't stray from the formula, and includes two such stylistic segue shots and an upbeat dance number where everyone moves in unison. Who would have guessed? I wonder where Iscove got the idea for that? It's bad enough to copy someone else's work, but when you plagiarize your own, that's something far different and more pathetic.

As written by screenwriters Andrew Lowery and Andrew Miller - credited as "The Drews" here, a cute moniker until one remembers/realizes they're the ones responsible for unleashing Dennis Rodman and "Simon Sez" on an unsuspecting public - the film offers minute variations on the tried and true plot, but not enough to make much of a difference.

Something of a light version of the exploration and discussion of romance and relationships among friends found in the far superior "When Harry Met Sally," everything here may be competently staged and executed - at least for the most part - but more often than not it's tedious, flat and uninspired.

If I'm going to be subjected to one of these films where I - and everyone else in the known universe - know that the two lead characters belong together, I want to feel it. I want to ache for them to figure it out. While younger teens and those who've never seen such a film may think that's what happens, trust me, it's not. In fact, it's not until the very last scene that the chemistry, and thus the movie, finally clicks. By then, it's too little, too late, but at least one can say that the film goes out on a high note.

Actually, it doesn't, since the filmmakers opted to include a gross out/scatological scene during the closing credits, apparently to appease those waiting for actor Jason Biggs to justify his presence in the film. For those not familiar with him, he was the star of 1999's "American Pie" and is best remembered for getting amorous with a warm apple pie when not dancing around in his underwear.

While the end credits scene lets him do the latter once again - and be accompanied by some scantily clad lingerie models - the scene feels tacked on and completely out of place from what preceded it, although I'm sure there will be those who enjoy it.

As far as the other performances, both Freddie Prinze, Jr. ("She's All That," the "I Know What You Did Last Summer" films) and Claire Forlani ("Meet Joe Black," "The Rock") are certainly easy on the eyes for those viewing members of the respective opposite sexes, but their turns in the roles are about as mediocre as the film in which they're trapped. Amanda Detmer ("Final Destination," "Drop Dead Gorgeous") and Heather Donahue ("The Blair Witch Project") fill out the remaining, major supporting roles, but can't do enough with their characters to make much of a difference either.

If you're a fan of the motto, "The same old, same old," or even "Been there, done that," and enjoy watching films bound to elicit a feeling of déjà vu (all over again), then by all means rush out to see this one. On the other hand, if you're looking for something that's different or original, you clearly won't find it here. Not horrible, but certainly far from great or memorable, "Boys and Girls" rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed June 14, 2000 / Posted June 16, 2000

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