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When the boys meet the girls, flee

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We may have to wait awhile to see which movie will become the best of the summer. But a little more than halfway through June, we already know what the worst movie of the summer is.

In a season that includes Battlefield Earth, Boys and Girls' achievement is even more striking. Forget glimmers here and there - the sly performance, the campy subtext. Boys and Girls is unwaveringly wretched.

Perhaps this will be the teen movie in which its target audience will finally take offense at the lowball mentality driving this dreck. Even in this age of crude-clever humor, it's hard to recall a movie that more brazenly treats its audience as a bunch of idiots.

Insofar as there is a story, Boys and Girls presents Ryan (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and Jennifer (Claire Forlani) thrown together by chance on an airplane when they were children. Thereafter they are thrown together every few minutes by the demands of storytelling cliche.

After hastening us through childhood and puberty, the movie spends most of its time in the cool lofts and colorful campus scenes of college life in Berkeley. Even though Ryan and Jennifer are total opposites - she's sassy, he's nerdy - they just keep coming back to each other until something that this movie keeps insisting is totally unexpected happens between them.

Highlighting the low points: Someone needs to tell Mr. Prinze Jr. that - George Clooney's career notwithstanding - just acting smug and comfortable on camera is not acting. There are any number of moments in his performance that are abjectly ridiculous - he does this nerdy voice that makes Urkel's Jaleel White seem like a method actor. Jason Biggs, hot from his American Pie success, is thrown in as comic relief in the form of a roommate named Steve. Like Tom Green in Road Trip, Mr. Biggs' character and performance are so peripheral, he seems to have been added in the editing room.

The script is a long-winded mess. A new writing team called "The Drews" collaborated to come up with this What's Up, Doc knock-off. Boys and Girls is mercilessly chatty as characters talk in an MTV-like take on Neil Simon. For instance, Jennifer tells the story of when her musician-boyfriend told her they were breaking up in a song he sang at a concert. "What's worse," Jennifer adds, "by the second chorus everyone was singing along." Ba-da bing.

And then there's director Robert Iscove. He was behind the camera for Freddie Jr.'s last teen-romance, She's All That. But that movie's small charms are nowhere to be found. The movie's big production number comes off as a techno square dance, and the recurring montages of San Francisco streets make the movie seem like a big-budget Rice-a-Roni commercial. And the tedious trick of transporting characters into whatever story they are telling comes across as what it is - a pointless distraction.

But then, so is everything else in a love story in which love apparently means never shutting up.
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