Anyone nervous about Hollywood's stranglehold on the dumb-teen-movie market should take comfort in "Dirty Deeds," a dispiritingly lazy high school comedy that feels no less engineered by committee for being independently produced. Even viewers who can still laugh at jokes about accidental urine consumption will be hard pressed to crack a smile -- or, for that matter, a wallet.
Anyone nervous about Hollywood’s stranglehold on the dumb-teen-movie market should take comfort in “Dirty Deeds,” a dispiritingly lazy high school comedy that feels no less engineered by committee for being independently produced. Ironically for a film about a series of escalating high school dares, there’s simply no nerve or verve on display, only paint-by-numbers complacency and the usual farrago of adolescent stereotypes. Even viewers who can still laugh at jokes about accidental urine consumption will be hard pressed to crack a smile — or, for that matter, a wallet.
Basically the labors of Hercules reconceived as a hazing ritual, the notorious “dirty deeds” have become the ultimate test of manhood at West Valley High School. (To judge by the female students’ almost uniformly cheerleader-ish accents, school is aptly named.)
Pipsqueak freshman Kyle (Wes Robinson), tired of being picked on by uber-jock Lawton (Matthew Carey) and his fellow letterman-jacket-clad bullies, publicly declares he will complete the deeds on the eve of homecoming. When Kyle’s protective sister Meg (Lacey Chabert from the incalculably superior “Mean Girls”) freaks out, Zach (Milo Ventimiglia), a brooding senior with the hots for Meg, volunteers to take Kyle’s place and perform all 10 deeds himself — each one more difficult, outrageous and unlawful than the last — in just 12 hours.
Alas, the deeds devised by screenwriters Jon Land and Jonathan Thies — which include cadaver and prosthetic-limb theft and a sex act involving whole-wheat bread (because apple pie is, like, so 1999) — aren’t any more novel or shocking than standard gross-out hijinks. Zach manages to rise to the challenge every time, thanks to some extremely tidy coincidences, including run-ins with a stunning West Valley High alumna (Zoe Saldana, who enters and exits the movie like a fresh breeze) and, inexplicably, a benevolent mafioso (Mark Derwin).
Meanwhile, pic periodically drops in on a nearby house party where revelers have gathered to drink, hook up and track Zach’s progress. This occasions an unlikely makeout session between a voluptuous senior (Arielle Kebbel) and nerdy freshman Bobby (Ray Santiago), who’s been duped into hosting the party against his wishes.
Elsewhere, surly authority figures proliferate, including a vice principal (Tom Amandes) with the unfortunate last name Fuchs and an obnoxious bald-headed cop (Michael Milhoan). Considerable screentime also is devoted to another student, a hulking street fighter (Alex Solowitz, whose ferocious Cro-Magnon stare is admittedly compelling).
Pic takes some desultory stabs at illuminating the fringes of a typical American high school — from death-obsessed goths to white guys with gangsta accents — to mildly amusing if hardly original effect.
Helmer David Kendall seems particularly hamstrung by the PG-13 rating, with telltale signs of compromised vulgarity (muted almost-profanity, lots of ogling but no nudity) evident throughout. For a film that could have used some bracingly foul “Porky’s”-style rudeness, “Dirty Deeds” comes off as too clean by half. The clunky moral lessons tacked on at the end — essentially a condemnation of the behavior pic has spent an hour or so applauding — feel wholly unearned.
Tech package is adequate, dullsville pop soundtrack excepted.