Can two photogenic, likable, hard-working stars make a film good all by themselves?
Not in the case of "Loser," a listless, disjointed collegiate opposites-attract comedy from writer-director Amy Heckerling. But at least Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari, as two New York University students meant for each other more than either suspects, make the film bearable.
Paul Tannek (Biggs, "American Pie") is one of those fish-out-of-water types you find only in the movies, a kid from suburbs so sub the rest of the world that popular culture never set foot there. Arriving at NYU, he doesn't have a clue what the other kids are talking about or why they're laughing behind his back. (It's because of his dorky hat, which not even the dorkiest freshman on Earth would wear after day one of orientation). But, of course, he's a moral kid who tries to let the abuse slide off his back.
Dora Diamond (Suvari, "American Beauty") has both a good heart - apparently the only one at NYU, according to this film - and cultural smarts (hey, she grew up in Brooklyn). But she's stuck in a rotten relationship with her college literature professor (a blissfully self-centered Greg Kinnear) and is desperately trying to earn money to stay in school.
"Loser" does fine when Paul and Dora are onscreen; Biggs and Suvari are relentlessly charming and complement each other well. But the supporting players, especially Paul's drug-addled, skirt-chasing roommates, are too broadly drawn. They're smarmy and offensive and louts in the extreme, and not even the most clueless rube in the world would spent 20 seconds in their company, much less the better part of an entire movie. And Dora has so much going for her, we don't believe she'd spend more than that same 20 seconds with her loser boyfriend.
Heckerling, who did so well depicting youth culture believably and compassionately in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and "Clueless," fails badly here. There's nothing good-hearted about a film that tries to play date rape for laughs (it's Paul's roommates' favorite pastime).
And outside Paul and Dora, there's not a real person in the entire movie. Just a bunch of losers ... and why would anyone want to watch that?
Starring Jason Biggs and Mena Suvari
Directed by Amy Heckerling
Released by Columbia
Rated PG-13 (Language, drug use, sexual content)
Running time 98 minutes
Sun score: * 1/2