A direct rip-off of "American Graffiti," "Dazed and Confused" and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "Can't Hardly Wait" doesn't have the integrity to simply lift the premises and characters from those movies, it steals actual lines. As anyone who has seen the much-better "Dazed and Confused" will tell you, Martha Washington was "a hip, hip, hip lady, man," not Velma from "Scooby Doo."
Such quibbles notwithstanding, "Can't Hardly Wait" should appeal to its target audience: restless just-graduated high schoolers desperate for an hour or so of mindless fun in between final exams and summer jobs. (A note to outraged grammarians out there: The film takes its title from a Replacements song, altogether appropriate for a movie whose only reason for being is its soundtrack.)
Of course, the emphasis in "Can't Hardly Wait" should be placed on "mindless" rather than "fun." First-time directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan take the well-trod path of following the night-in-the-life of a group of teen-agers and don't give it much oomph, no matter how many zany visual tricks they pull. The jokes are limp, the set pieces are warmed over, the soundtrack is scattered (is it '80s? '90? '70s?) and the central love story is uninvolving.
Ethan Embry, best known as one of the band members in "That Thing You Do!" plays Preston Meyers, who has been in love with the high school prom queen, Amanda (Jennifer Love Hewitt) since freshman year. When Amanda's quarterback boyfriend Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli) breaks up with her on graduation day, Preston sees his big chance. That night, at a graduation party, he will deliver the love letter (and the torch) he's been carrying all this time.
Preston's friends have other agendas. The class nerd (Charlie Korsmo) intends to wreak revenge on Dexter, who has teased him mercilessly throughout their school career; hip-hop kid Kenny (Seth Green) intends to wreak havoc on any girl who will have him and Denise (Lauren Ambrose), intends to keep avoiding the beer-guzzling, sex-crazed, housewrecking classmates she's avoided for four years running.
They're all here: the homecoming queen, the snob, the goody-two-shoes, the stoners, the jocks, the science nerds. The only demographic missing is homosexuals, who are instead obliquely -- and reprehensibly -- represented by the filmmakers with a cruel epithet and practical joke. For Elfont and Kaplan, apparently, it's better to be drunk, stupid, superficial, selfish and narcissistic than gay.
Anyone with a passing familiarity with the genre can pretty much fill in the blanks: kegs are tapped, kids get drunk, kids pass out. Clothes are doffed, condoms donned, expletives shouted. True loves are found, lost and found again. Another day dawns, with its promise of the exact same movie with the exact same characters in just a few years.
Youth may be wasted on the young, but its' a drop in the bucket compared to the time wasted pandering to them.
'Can't Hardly Wait'
Starring Ethan Embry, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Charlie Korsmo, Lauren Ambrose, Peter Facinelli, Seth Green
Directed by Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan
Rated PG-13 (teen drinking and sexuality, and language)
Released by Columbia Pictures
Sun score * 1/2
Pub Date: 6/12/98