It's hard to imagine Drew Barrymore's never been kissed.
Get beyond that, however, and her performance in "Never Been Kissed" should work on you just fine. The film confirms its star's status as America's sweetheart; if there are people out there who don't find Barrymore utterly charming, it's only because they try real hard to feel that way.
Too bad the film, about a budding journalist assigned to do an expose on the degradations of high school life, simply isn't worthy of her. The script displays little feel for either newspapers or high school, as though screenwriters Abby Kohn and Mark Silverstein only know what they've seen in movies. And Raja Gosnell's tepid direction doesn't help matters.
Poor Josie Geller is a copy editor at the Chicago Sun-Times who longs to be a reporter. While her editor isn't interested, salvation arrives in the form of lovably dictatorial publisher Rigfort (Garry Marshall, in a part he should have patented by now), who assigns her to the paper's next big feature.
So it's back to the classroom for Josie, whose enthusiasm for her break is tempered by a reluctance to re-live hell -- school was not much fun for the wallflower her classmates knew as Josie Grossie.
The initial results are disastrous. Ill-advised, Josie shows up for her first day at school wearing a white pantsuit and feather boa, not the sort of outfit to help a girl fit in. And she quickly reverts to her geeky adolescent ways, finding her only friends among the school outcasts -- not the sort of crowd the boss wants her to hang with.
Things improve when her brother (an enjoyably chuckle-headed David Arquette) also enrolls and helps her gain acceptance in the student power structure. But as Josie starts enjoying her second-chance adolescence, the issue becomes one of betrayal: Can she turn on her newfound friends and expose them in the pages of the Sun-Times?
Barrymore (who doubles as the film's executive producer) is so naturally endearing that when she tries to act even more endearing, the effort comes across as heavy-handed. And the filmmakers make her so totally clueless that it's a wonder she exists at all, much less works for a big-city newspaper.
But she soon settles into a groove -- literally; her ganja-induced dance at a local club almost makes the film's many shortcomings forgivable. Almost.
'Never Been Kissed'
Directed by Raja Gosnell
Starring Drew Barrymore, David Arquette
Released by 20th Century Fox
Rated PG-13 (sexuality, some drug references)
Running time: 105 minutes
Sun score: * *
Pub Date: 4/09/99