Every generation needs its own comedy of mismatched teen romance, but "She's All That" represents a new low for the genre, making "Pretty in Pink" and the other fish-out-of-water fantasies of the '80s seem like works of Byronic genius in retrospect.
Yet another ideologically confused Romeo, Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr.) finds true love in an act of manipulation. Betting his high-school buddies that he can turn even the most insignificant coed into a prom queen, the athletic overachiever sets his sights on artsy loner Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook). Their fraudulent courtship brings the quiet Laney out of her self-imposed shell, though her path to popularity is fraught with jealous homeroom divas and suddenly leering jocks.
Along the way, the usual lessons are learned: Trickery is wrong, money doesn't matter, social standing is less important than character, etc. But never before was so little at stake on the way to enlightenment. Before her cosmetic and cultural makeover, Laney already possesses enviably clear skin, perfect features and one heck of a rack under her dowdy threads. It's a lot easier for Zack to clean up Laney than it was for Amanda Peterson to make Patrick Dempsey vaguely presentable in "Can't Buy Me Love." Her wrong-side-of-the-tracks digs are no hovel, either, but rather a suburban sprawl that her single-parent dad (Kevin Pollak) seems to have little trouble affording.
R. Lee Fleming Jr.'s script is a predictable amalgam of pseudo-hip kidspeak, leavened by extremely infrequent stabs of wit. The only true injection of satire is the appearance of Brock Hudson (Matthew Lillard), a mythical former cast member of MTV's "The Real World" who takes up with Zack's ex-girlfriend after his obnoxious antics get him thrown out of the house.
Far more typical is a climactic prom dance, a masterpiece of precision footwork that seems to have been choreographed by Michael Flatley. No matter how unrealistic they may have seemed at the time, those Valley Girl kids never danced this well ... then again, they hadn't put in as many years watching "The Grind." One shudders to think how slickly trivial the adolescent heartbreaks of the next screen millennium will be.