That today's young directors would be influenced by some of the more memorable films of the '70s and '80s comes as no surprise. That they've turned filmmaking into an act of blatant thievery does.

The latest example of contemporary cinematic piracy is "Can't Hardly Wait," an alleged teen comedy that owes a huge debt to the 1973 George Lucas classic "American Graffiti," as well as director John Hughes' mid-'80s output - especially "Sixteen Candles" (1984).In fact, the movie so transparently lifts scenes straight out of its inspirational sources that both Lucas and Hughes might have strong cases if they wanted to sue filmmakers Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont for their plot "appropriations."

This is particularly disappointing since the film might have been good if its writer/director duo had concentrated more on characterizations and less on getting cheap laughs.

Certainly the time is right for this sort of movie, if it's done properly, and the cast is appealing enough - especially young stars Ethan Embry ("That Thing You Do!") and Jennifer Love Hewitt ("I Know What You Did Last Summer").

Embry plays Preston Meyers, a would-be writer who's been obsessed with high school beauty queen Amanda Beckett (Hewitt) since the day he met her. Unfortunately, she's been dating conceited jock Mike Dexter (Peter Facinelli) throughout her high school years.

But Preston has one last shot at telling Amanda how he feels about her: the graduation blowout party. And all the ingredients seem to be in place - he's got nothing to lose, since he's heading to a writer's conference the next day. Besides, he's learned that Amanda and Mike have finally split up.

Meanwhile, at the party in progress, Preston's caustic friend Denise Fleming (Lauren Ambrose) is stuck in a bathroom with white "gangsta" wannabe Kenny "Special K" Fisher (Seth Green), and nerd William Lichter (Charlie Korsmo) is anticipating getting his long-awaited revenge on Mike, his high school tormenter.

As mentioned, Embry and Hewitt are appealing performers. But the script doesn't give us any insight into their characters, or any particular reason to care about them.

And co-directors Kaplan and Elmont throw so many jokes up on the screen that no real warmth is able to surface from the situations.

Compounding the problems are a series of unfunny cameos from TV stars Melissa Joan Hart, Jerry O'Connell and Jenna Elfman (the latter playing a stripper in angel garb who advises Preston on his love life).

"Can't Hardly Wait" is rated PG-13 for vulgar sex talk and crass flatulence gags, profanity, violent shoving, a brief sex scene and use of a couple of racial epithets.