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Teens on Screens

Jess Ylvisaker takes in "She's All That" and "Rushmore"

An appropriate response to a rainy forecast is, of course, to head off to the moving pictures. An appropriate response to Fox News claiming that there's a storm system extending from San Francisco west -- all the way across the Pacific Ocean -- is to ignore all other plans and responsibilities for the afternoon and evening and take in a do-it-yourself double feature. Given the Van Ness Street nexus of theaters, it's not too difficult to see almost any combination of two movies -- the blockbuster 'now showing in a theater near you' is probably now showing in a theater near American Rag. Thus went a recent cold and drippy Saturday. My compatriot in bad-weather sloth and I thought long and hard and, I think, chose well: we watched She's All That and followed it up with Rushmore.

The first pleasure provided by She's All That was the s.ple relief of being dry and warm after the discomfort of the out-of-doors. And, despite the fact that the theater's climate control has nothing to do with the particular movie on the screen, let's face it, one might not expect too much more from this recent release directed by Robert Iscove and written by Lee Fleming. It is unabashedly formulaic -- George Bernard Shaw published Pygmalion in 1916 and there have been plenty of versions with only slight variations in the decades since -- and makes no bones about its teeny bopper, cotton candy fluff factor. But for those who don't believe that a movie needs to be intellectually or emotionally challenging to be enjoyable, She's All That offers certain pleasures.

Plot-wise, it's unsurprising; we've seen the commercials: Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze, Jr.), soccer captain, A-student, and general b.m.o.c. at a Los Angeles high school, gets publicly dumped by Taylor Vaughan (Jodi Lynne O'Keefe), his busty, Bebe-clad sweetheart. Zack, in a puffed-up moment of achy-breaky heart defensiveness, enters into a bet with Dean (Paul Walker), his right hand man in popularity. Zack's end of the bet is to transform the frumpiest, least socially-graced girl in the school into the Prom Queen, stealing the title from its rightful (or, at least, expected) recipient, Taylor. The bet's victim is Laney Boggs (Rachel Leigh Cook). But the predictable course this storyline runs has its share of precious and funny moments that had me giggling like a high school senior.

Zack, of course, is humanized by the bet (the big guy's got to get in touch with his dorky side) and, among other feats, turns in an impromptu performance art piece with a hackey sack, and forces a bully picking on Laney's little brother to eat a slice of pizza with a particularly terrible topping (There's Something About Mary-style humor here). Laney's job (the unpopular girl can't have money) at a Mediterranean fast food joint gives way to a short but tickling scene in which an older male customer asks Laney to super-size his [falafel] balls. And of course, the movie satisfies the desire for unrealistic, Hollywood teen romance.

This, however, is not the Rushmore approach to teen love. This new project by Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson, the duo that brought us Bottle Rocket, has our 15-year-old hero, Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), lovelorn in extreme and extremely quirky ways. Nothing short of quirky could come from a love triangle involving Max, a glasses - and braces - wearing adolescent, Miss Cross (Olivia Williams), a young, widowed second grade schoolteacher with rosy cheeks and a charming British accent, and Mr. Blume (Bill Murray), an aging family man dissatisfied with everything life has offered him.

What this movie manages to do is to present the outlandish events that occur as a result of this ridiculous entanglement (Max orchestrating the construction of a huge aquarium on his school's baseball diamond, Mr. Blume driving back and forth over Max's bike) in all their bizarre glory while rendering more intelligible the forces that drew this odd threesome together. It is, as it turns out, quite a compelling triangle -- Max, all youthful vigor but wise beyond his years, falls for his first older woman. Miss Cross sees in Max some of the fiery, throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude that caused her to fall for her dead husband. Miss Cross and Mr. Blume see in one another the possibility to rediscover the passion for life that they've both somewhat lost. Set this all to a rockin' British Invasion soundtrack (and, in one scene, set Bill Murray in a pair of Budweiser swimming trunks) and we're in business.

Minor criticism: I do wish that we could have seen a bit more of Mr. Blume. Max, as the brainy smart-ass who is failing out of school mostly, it would seem, due to his never-ending list of extracurricular activities, is endlessly entertaining, and Jason Schwartzman, as Max's portrayer, proves himself a quick learner when it comes to acting (this is his first film). But Bill Murray is truly in fine form in Rushmore and Mr. Blume, pot-bellied, disillusioned and irreverent but unwilling to give up quite yet, deserved more attention from the plot and the camera. The story being what it is, it's a good one. Rushmore offers a less predictable ending than the first film in this double feature, and I shan't give it away.

She's All That
rated PG-13
1 hour 35 minutes

Freddie Prinze Jr.
Rachael Leigh Cook
Jodi Lynn O'Keefe
Paul Walker
Usher Raymond

rated R
1 hour 33 minutes

Jason Schwartzman
Bill Murray
Olivia Williams
Seymour Cassel
Brian Cox