"Book of Love" would like to be "American Graffiti," but it's really just a cleaned-up "Porky's." That's not to say it's any less vulgar than the raunchy teen comedies of a decade ago - it's not. But it does manage to avoid the explicit sexual escapades of those movies, eschewing sex and nudity for the most part.
Do not misconstrue this as a recommendation, however.The film opens with a prologue that indicates it is dedicated to "ev
FILM ery horny teenager," and that should be a fair indication of where we're going.
The setting is the '50s, which allows for quite a few classic rock 'n' roll tunes in the background, and the main character is young high schooler Jack Twiller (Chris Young).
He's the new kid in town, a semi-geek who is immediately befriended by full-fledged geek "Crutch" Kane (Keith Coogan), who walks with a limp and wears glasses.
Immediately upon their meeting they run into the town bullies, all clad in black leather jackets, of course, and they proceed to strip Jack and Crutch, forcing them to run home wearing only cardboard boxes.
The movie as a whole is little more than a series of similar escapades as the boys - and their various buddies - obtain a beat-up car, emulate James Dean, make fools of themselves in front of girls they adore and spend a lot of time masturbating.
There is a framing device that has the adult, newly divorced Jack (Michael McKean) reminiscing about his high school days and the down-to-earth girl he ignored but should have pursued. And there is an occasional fantasy element that has young Jack seeming to be a Walter Mitty, complete with fantasy daydreams.
To give you an idea of the level of humor here, what is apparently intended as the film's biggest laugh occurs during a Scout camp sequence where a young man is stripped, chained to a bed and a lighted candle placed in his buttocks as he's carried into the woods.
Unfortunately, as directed by first-timer Robert Shaye and script-ed by William Kotzwinkle (from his own novel "Jack in the Box"), none of this is very funny or endearing. The characterizations are broad and the situations seem dreary and tiresome. (Kotzwinkle is best known for his novelization of "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial.")
Part of that may simply be because "Book of Love" looks like too many other movies. Or maybe it's because Kotzwinkle likes the cheap shot, the easy vulgar joke, rather than trying to come up with something fresh and clever.
Certainly the cast is appealing and each of the young actors tries hard to inject some life into the proceedings. But it's a bit like putting sugar on a plate of liver. It's still liver.
"Book of Love" is rated PG-13, but is very vulgar, with some violence and profanity and some male nudity.