Film Review: The Secret Lives of Dorks

There was really no reason in the world why this nth version of eye-glazing high-school hijinks should have been made, but you know it won't be the last.

Another entry in the “Why Should We Care?” department, The Secret Lives of Dorks feels like something we have all been through too many times before. Ultra-nerd Payton (Gaelan Connell), is besotted by impossibly hot, unattainable blonde (naturally) cheerleader Carey (Riley Voelkel), who cannily diverts his lust for her into something more type-appropriate, namely girl-nerd Samantha (Vanessa Marano).

After seeing this film, I can only surmise that director Salomé Breziner and screenwriters Johnny Severin and Nicholas David Brandt were raised by wolves in some techno-less tundra of Siberia, and never got to see any of the oeuvre of John Hughes, the entire Revenge of the Nerds series or, even before that, Andy Hardy. Or else they have seen them and just didn’t care, so determined were they to bring this uninspired, beyond-derivative and lackluster teen vision to the screen. Even the animated portions of the film, which make a nod towards the comic-book obsession of Payton and Samantha, have a far superior antecedent in Ghost World. The only way the filmmakers seem to up the ante is by grossly overdoing things, as in the case of Payton and Samantha’s first date. They give him flatulence and worse as a result of having enjoyed “Taco Day” at the school cafeteria, and have him inadvertently grabbing her breasts in front of her parents, taking her to a male strip club (also inadvertent) and projectile-vomiting after activating an allergy.

Considering the uninspired, pushy proceedings, the actors manage to do fairly well. Voelkel is poised with a goodly dose of attractive spunk, while Beau Mirchoff, who plays her popular jock boyfriend, is one of those celestially handsome kids the West Coast seems to grow so disproportionately, and does his rote butch stuff amusingly. Marano is convincingly smart and appealing, even before she plucks her unibrow and—presto!—changes into a babe overnight. Connell, unfortunately, brings nothing new to this tired table, no real eccentric spark or wit which would really have you in his corner.

Jennifer Tilly pops up, her bodaciousness somewhat subdued, playing a teacher, and she’s rather sweet if wasted, but it’s sad to see her desperately throwing herself at the ever-unappetizing Jim Belushi, as Payton's insensitive football coach of a father. Breziner & Co. think it’s just too adorable to have his little daughter sit faithfully by him watching the Chicago Bears on TV, shouting inappropriately grown-up obscenities at the screen. (You may well demur.) His ultimate idol is Mike Ditka, and damned if the man himself doesn’t make a number of cameo appearances you might catch between yawns.