Michael Vartan and Drew Barrymore in Never Been Kissed (1999)

Barrymore Goes Old School

In the long list of Drew Barrymore movies I have to say that "Never Been Kissed" is one which I am cold to. There is something about it or maybe something which it's missing which makes it a rather run of the mill romantic comedy which had the potential to be good but never gets itself above being average. The whole idea of Barrymore returning to High School and pretending to be 17 again has the potential for some clever humour which pokes fun at the idiosyncrasies of high school life but instead of delivering clever humour it's all too obvious, played for cheap laughs which whilst amusing leave no lasting impression. And that is the best way to describe "Never Been Kissed", it's fun at the time but doesn't leave any lasting impression, even when it comes to the expected overly manufactured romantic ending.

Desperate to get a chance of being a reporter, Chicago Sun Times copy editor Josie Gellar (Drew Barrymore - The Wedding Singer) jumps at the chance to be 17 again and go back to High School to get the dirt on teenagers. But having been a picked on nerd the first time around Josie's return to High School is less than great as she fails to fit in with anyone other than the maths geeks. Fortunately Josie's brother Rob (David Arquette - Scream 2) also agrees to go back to High School pretending to be young and instantly becomes the cool kid meaning that Josie becomes cool through association. Not only that she starts to fall for handsome teacher Sam Coulson (Michael Vartan - Monster-in-Law), but unfortunately as the deadline for her report looms Josie has to decide whether love is more important than her career.

Drew Barrymore as Josie Gellar in Never Been Kissed (1999)

So the whole premise of "Never Been Kissed" is that we have an undercover journalist pretending to be 17 and going back to High School to get the scoop on what dirty deeds teenagers really get up to. But to be honest this whole undercover thing isn't that important as "Never Been Kissed" is basically a romantic comedy in a high school, an area which has been covered more times than I care to remember. As such there is an obvious side to much of what we watch, from Josie struggling to fit in, making friends with the geeks, the cool guys who pick on everyone else, the bitchy cliques and so on. In fact for the most there isn't an original idea in the movie as we get stereotypical characters, cliche set ups and comedy which often fails to make you laugh.

Of course being a romantic comedy means that Josie will fall in love and the fact that she is in fact 25 and undercover means that when all is revealed the romance will typically go wrong before being sorted in the end. And just in that sentence sums up "Never Been Kissed", it is a movie worked out of cliches and no matter what slight embellishments there are such as Josie's brother also returning to High School help it to feel any different.

It also doesn't help that when it comes to comedy subtlety has been thrown out of the window. All the humour is played slightly over the top so when Josie remembers what is was like to be picked on the first time she went to High School her character has every trait of a geek but embellished so that it borders on the character being mentally handicapped. It just doesn't feel right and whilst there are some funny moments, most notably Josie's brother Rob doing a Tom Cruise impression as he recreates "Risky Business", much of the comedy ends up not so much unfunny but not really laughable such as the flash back to Josie's first prom night where in a seriously bad 80s dress she gets hit by eggs.

And to be frank the acting isn't that much better. I like Drew Barrymore and there is no one who can play cute, adorable and vulnerable with such ease but there is something about her character Josie which just doesn't work. Maybe it's those flashback scenes when Josie was a High School nerd the first time around which makes her off putting but something about it clearly doesn't work. And that means no matter how hard Barrymore works to make Josie both likeable and lovable it's difficult to really connect and warm to her.

That issue of lack of connection is the same with all the cast and whilst I enjoyed David Arquette doing the "Risky Business" Tom Cruise impression his characterisation of Rob ends up dull. And then there is Michael Vartan as love interest and teacher Sam Coulson who yes is handsome but when it comes to chemistry with Drew Barrymore it is nowhere to be seen. In fact Jessica Alba is more fun as one of the schools IT girls as is Leelee Sobieski as one of the math geeks whilst it is also fun seeing James Franco in a minor part.

What is sort of amusing and probably the best part of "Never Been Kisses" is when Josie wears a tiny camera and the feed is broadcast back to the newspaper offices. Watching all the staff crowd around a TV to watch the broadcast like it was some sort of daytime soap is both funny and clever. It's just a shame that the rest of "Never Been Kissed" doesn't manage to be as a clever and funny.

What this all boils down to is that "Never Been Kissed" is a disappointment. The whole idea of a reporter going back to High School is ripe for some clever comedy but unfortunately everything ends up quite ordinary and obvious and not hugely funny. It's still entertaining and Barrymore is still cute even though her character isn't great but it is a movie which struggles from start to finish.