The Secret Lives of Dorks: Film Review
A school nerd pines for a beautiful cheerleader in this family-friendly teen comedy.
Representing a far cry from the insightful empathy of such teen-oriented films as Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the movies of John Hughes, The Secret Lives of Dorks is a formulaic comedy that displays as much subtlety as its title. This tale about a dorky teenager who desperately pines for a sexy cheerleader only to stumble into romance with the nerdy girl who adores him traffics in the sort of overly familiar characters and situations that make it more suitable for television than its limited theatrical release.
The proceedings are narrated by the lead character, the comic-book-obsessed Payton (Gaelan Connell), whose frequent fantasies are illustrated in cheaply rendered animated segments. He’s long been in love with head cheerleader Carey (Riley Voelkel, frequently seen in body-baring bikinis that recall Phoebe Cates’ memorable emergence from the pool in Ridgemont), but she already has a boyfriend, the school’s star quarterback (Beau Mirchoff). Not that she would give Payton the time of day under any circumstances.
To ward off his uncomfortable advances, she hatches a scheme to hook him up with Samantha (Vanessa Marano), who shares his obsessions and whose unibrowed appearance makes her a suitable match for the goofy, bespectacled Payton. That is until, in time-honored cinematic tradition, she cleans herself up to reveal the true hottie beneath.
Their first date is a disaster, with Payton inadvertently taking her to a male strip club and vividly illustrating the disastrous aftereffects of both “Taco Day” at school and his allergic reaction to onions. But despite witnessing such indignities as his projectile vomiting, the good-natured Samantha is willing to come back for more.
A running tired subplot involves Payton’s father, (Jim Belushi), the school’s football coach who is obsessed with Mike Ditka and his awkward reactions to the none-too-subtle romantic overtures from a biology teacher (Jennifer Tilly) who obviously takes her curriculum to heart. He looks for advice from a series of instructional videos hosted by the former Chicago Bears coach featuring such titles as Ditka on Parenting and Ditka on Talking to Women.
Director Salome Breziner fails to infuse the broadly silly proceedings with even a modicum of wit, and despite some appealing performances -- both Marano and Voelkel infuse their stock characters with unexpected charm -- The Secret Lives of Dorks is ultimately as ungainly as its would-be hero. Nostalgia buffs will at least appreciate the brief appearances by such ‘70s-era television veterans as William Katt (The Greatest American Hero) and Kay Lenz (Rich Man, Poor Man).
Opens: Sept. 27 (Gravitas Ventures)
Production: Sneak Preview Entertainment, School Pictures, Indomitable Entertainment
Cast: Gaelan Connell, Vanessa Marano, Riley Voelkel, Beau Mirchoff, William Katt, Kay Lenz, Mike Ditka, Jim Belushi, Jennifer Tilly, Fortune Feimster
Director: Salome Breziner
Screenwriters: Johnny Severin, Nicholas David Brandt
Producers: Dominic Ianno, Stephen Israel, Steven J. Wolfe
Executive producers: Emma Collin, David Lawley, Stephen Margolis, David Tice
Director of photography: Mark Mervis
Editors: Jacob Chase, David Heinz
Production designer: Michael Fitzgerald
Costume designer: Liz M. Schroeder
Composer: Jeff Cardoni
Rated PG-13, 91 min.