‘I Love You, Beth Cooper’ is a nerd fantasy

By the time the two buddies in “I Love You, Beth Cooper” have retreated to the hero’s bedroom in flight from a trio of school bullies, it comes as no surprise that the only weapon available is a toy “Star Wars” light saber.

It had to be. This is a nerd fantasy movie, even if nothing supernatural happens.

The hero is Denis (Paul Rust), a high school valedictorian who makes a fateful decision during his graduation speech: He’ll publicly declare his love for classmate Beth Cooper (Hayden Panettiere, from “Heroes”), who doesn’t know he exists.

This impulsive gesture leads to a long night of parties, car chases and bruising (and all-too-frequent) encounters with Beth’s boyfriend.

Incredibly — and this is where the nerd fantasy comes in — Beth is also around for much of the evening. So are two of her girl posse, plus Denis’ buddy Rich (Jack Carpenter), who is, he insists, not gay, although everybody else at school assumes he is.

Based on a novel by “Simpsons” writer Larry Doyle, “Beth Cooper” falls neatly into the teen genre, with few variations on the form. Doyle and director Chris Columbus dial down the raunch from recent high school successes such as “Superbad,” which is something of a new wrinkle, given the leering style of most comedies today.

For Columbus, a well-paid A-lister whose movies include the first two “Harry Potter” pictures and “Rent,” this is something of a left-handed endeavor, a little bauble between summer blockbusters.

“Beth Cooper” resembles his 1987 directing debut, “Adventures in Babysitting,” which had the same night-gone-haywire structure. It works as well now as it did then, but ultimately one wonders: Why bother?

Showcasing the petite rising starlet Hayden Panettiere makes sense, and at least Paul Rust isn’t a generic male ingenue pretending to be a nerd; he really looks like a nerd.

When Alice Cooper and Kiss provide the gnarliest soundtrack moments, you know the film isn’t greatly in touch with the present day. Like we needed more evidence that “School’s Out” still totally rules.

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