Boys will be boys, girls will be girls, and “Boys and Girls” will soon be forgotten. As generic as its title, pic joins a seemingly endless stream of undistinguished, middling and amazingly tepid movies about and geared to the teens and young-20s crowd, lamely attempting to put a romantic comedy spin on the lives of young Americans. This reps a reunion of helmer Robert Iscove and star Freddie Prinze Jr., after “She’s All That,” a B.O. hit in the new vanilla youth genre. “Boys” marks a real comedown, especially for Prinze, who is seriously miscast. Miramax release seems also seriously mis-scheduled: This modest date movie may have put up good numbers at another point in the calendar, but certainly won’t do so against the summer blockbusters.
Script by writing team of Andrew Lowery and Andrew Miller (whose joint stage name is the Drews) is so unreasonably talky and lacking in incident or action that it could easily be adapted for the stage. Existing action is haplessly dependent on characters coincidentally meeting up. Opening scene exposes these problems as 12-year-old Ryan (Brendon Ryan Barrett), so neurotic and anal that he wears two watches and corrects adults’ grammar, shares an airplane row with Jennifer (Raquel Beaudine), who’s also 12 but impulsive and sexually educated. They automatically clash, but they have one thing in common: They talk.
Boy (and, for that matter, girl), do they talk. Four years later at L.A.’s Harding High, Jennifer (Claire Forlani) is homecoming queen and Ryan plays the school’s mascot. Underneath his gopher mask is an ultra-nerdy, ultra-shy guy whom Jennifer, worldly and wary of relationships, calls “stupid” to his face. Ryan’s character immediately strikes the viewer as a prop, and the concept is seriously undermined with the studly Prinze playing him. Thesp is so obviously wrong for the role that pic can’t possibly recover from it, though Prinze gamely makes an attempt to make things work.
This boy and girl would appear to be going in opposite directions, but conveniently end up at the same college — UC Berkeley. Natch, his major is the ever-practical structural engineering (he seems to work on the same bridge model throughout his four-year stint) and hers is the never-practical Latin. He has a g.f. (Alyson Hannigan), but she soon dumps him about the same time Jennifer’s flame dumps her. Thus begins pic’s core “action,” which is to show Ryan and Jennifer in various Bay Area locales talking about relationships. But rather than hang around Berkeley (where most students would generally be), they tend to gab away in super-scenic, touristy Frisco locales from the glorious Marin Headlands to Lombard Street.
Incidentally grafted onto story are the couple’s respective, deeply flawed roomies, Hunter (Jason Biggs) and Amy (Amanda Detmer). Hunter, who’s so full of his own b.s. that he can barely admit that his real name is Steve, plays comic relief as he prances about trying to be manly and pick up chicks. Amy, who seems lifted wholesale from any number of Woody Allen movies, can’t seem to make breakfast without consulting her therapist. Though Detmer is effectively engaging in her character’s welter of problems and contradictions, Amy would be the Roommate From Hell in real life — yet Jennifer puts up with her for all four years.
Character quartet is tellingly never interwoven into larger narrative, leaving Biggs (“American Pie”) to act the class clown and perform a series of disconnected stunts. (Last of these, involving Hunter and four Victoria’s Secret models and having zero to do with pic, runs alongside closing credits.) Heather Donahue, in her first post-“Blair Witch” appearance, injects desperately needed manic comic energy as a gal briefly in Ryan’s life.
Forlani carries much of pic’s emotional weight as her character struggles to realize that Ryan isn’t just a friend but a lover. While her perf is more enjoyable than her soporific turn in “Meet Joe Black,” Forlani has yet to match her easy charm and stunning beauty with a star’s inner glow. In any case, we’re left wondering what took her so long to take off Ryan’s nerdy glasses and notice that she’s hanging out with someone as impossibly handsome as Prinze.
Tech credits are strictly standard, with soundtrack coated in an indifferently wallpapered selection of songs.