Critics and audience members, at least those old enough to remember, are bound to make comparisons between the new teen comedy "Can't Hardly Wait" and the films of the '80s auteur of the adolescent, John Hughes. And while this '90s version of the high-school high-jinks genre liberally plucks its characters and situations from the Hughes films, "Heathers," and "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," its overall structure goes back even further to George Lucas' 1973 classic, "American Graffiti."
An out-of-control graduation bash provides the backdrop for the action that takes place from sunset to sunrise. Since Preston (Ethan Embry) leaves the next morning for summer session in Massachusetts, he decides this is the night he'll let Amanda (Jennifer Love Hewitt), the girl he's been infatuated with since freshman year, know of his love. Even though Amanda's hunky jock of a boyfriend, Mike (Peter Facinelli), has just dumped her, making the paths of Preston and Amanda romantically cross lasts the duration of the movie.
While Embry and Hewitt may be the central focus of the plot, several minor characters have their chance to pull focus and in the end come across as stronger characters. Lauren Ambrose, as Preston's non-conformist friend Denise, plays essentially a Molly Ringwald-like character, but brings a fresh and appealing presence to the film. Seth Green, who as the Jewish homeboy wannabe who ends up in a romantic tryst with Denise a la "The Breakfast Club," crosses the line from bravado to vulnerability nicely.
Charlie Korsmo, as the requisite computer geek who finds the joys of alcohol and becomes a raging hormonal party animal, is thoroughly convincing and a joy to watch, particularly when he cuts loose with a raucous rendition of Guns N' Roses' "Paradise City." Facinelli effectively delivers on a loathsome character, but his uncanny resemblance to Tom Cruise at times becomes a bit distracting.
Embry creates the same type of spacey yet likable character he first developed in "That Thing You Do," but Hewitt is left with little more in the film than being a pretty face.
Surprisingly enough, the best scene in the movie involves a cameo by "Dharma and Greg's" Jenna Elfman. As a stripper dressed as an angel who's car has broken down, Elfman hangs a pay phone up on Embry just as he is about to talk live on the radio with Barry Manilow about the true meaning of the song "Mandy."
Her lengthy diatribe about her girlhood crush on Scott Baio is extremely funny and surprisingly poignant. Barry Manilow, Pop-Tarts, and Cabbage Patch Dolls are just a few of the too-many cross-generational pop culture references. While several of them work well, many of them seem forced and unnecessary.
"Can't Hardly Wait" was written and directed by Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, the team responsible for co-scripting the forgettable "A Very Brady Sequel." Employing music-video flash and some clever graphic conceits, Elfont and Kaplan keep the film humming along, but their script tends to elaborate only upon clichés without truly developing any rich characters. That fact becomes even more apparent when the film employs the requisite "where are they now" device (originated in "American Graffiti") to very little effect. This piece of entertaining, yet flawed fluff is best when it stays in the here and now.