Scott Hardie: “It ruled.”

[major spoilers ahead] Like its teenaged protagonists who desperately want to grow up, the filmmakers here are like kids who start cooking in the kitchen when their parents are out, and they aren't quite ready to handle the delicate alchemy. Some things taste surprisingly good when made with an authentic touch, but there are spills and splatters along the way, and watch out for that stove fire near the end! The film's naive earnestness finally gets the better of it, erupting in an unintentionally hilarious conclusion spoofed quite deliciously a few years later in "Pumpkin" (and I rarely level the "unintentionally hilarious" accusation, so believe it).

Still, even a pretentious, cliché-riddled film like this can sneak past our defenses and touch us if it is willing to go places we only imagined, and I'm certainly not the only person to daydream of having an adventure like the protagonists here. That fantasy is given weight by the commanding lead performances, especially by Angela Bettis, who uses the same nearly infinite bag of performance tricks she demonstrated in "May" last year. This young woman is a twentysomething Joan Allen, so delicate and so precise with every tiny movement of her face, and she proves more than up to the task of giving her walking stereotype some fascinating, perceptible depth of personality. Director Don Most (who graciously allows a big, welcome "Happy Days" reference in through the kitchen door) shows promise, shifting the amateur-hour plot dynamics to the back burner and bringing the sympathetic inner selves of these giddy young adults bubbling to the surface. Whenever he directs again, I'll try a bite to see if he's improved.

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