Never Been Kissed improves on The Mod Squad by ripping off a far better piece of material: Cameron Crowe’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High. At twenty-two, Crowe posed as a high school student to write about the teen experience (his book became the basis for the 1982 movie). Never mind that Never Been Kissed doesn’t credit Crowe’s Fast Times — it’s the botch that three screenwriters make of their hommage that rankles.
Drew Barrymore stars as Josie Geller, 25, an all-work, no-nooky copy editor at the Chicago Sun-Times who yearns to be a reporter and gets her chance when the paper’s nut-job owner (Garry Marshall) assigns her to go undercover as a high school student. So far, so promising. Barrymore, who co-produced the film, is a vibrant presence. But her role stays maddeningly superficial. Back in the classroom, Josie finds herself the same awkward, chubby, fashion-victim freak she was as a teen. She hangs with the nerds, led by Aldys (Leelee Sobieski, who looks more like Helen Hunt with each role), until her editor (John C. Reilly) screams for the sex, drugs and dirt that only come from hanging with cheerleaders, such as Kirsten (Jessica Alba).
So Josie switches allegiances, learns to be cool with the help of her cool brother Rob (David Arquette) and ends up hating herself for becoming a bogus diva who betrays her friends for a story. Worse, the former Josie Grossie falls for Sam (Michael Vartan), a babe English teacher who feels like a child molester for being attracted to her.
Rest assured that all plot wrinkles are conveniently ironed out, just as all chances to create an edgy comedy about the realities of high school life are bypassed by director Raja Gosnell (Home Alone 3) in favor of a crowd-pleasing fable. Barrymore dug deeper last year with Ever After, a Cinderella story with bite. Never Been Kissed is toothless satire — relatively inoffensive and relentlessly mediocre.