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Road trip A high school senior looks to get lucky after online meeting

Movie titles are tricky. For example, doesn't "Ghost Town" sound like a '70s Disney Don Knotts vehicle rather than the quiet, sweet romantic comedy it is?

That's why I've got to hand it to "Sex Drive." I'm not sure there has been this literal a title since "Snakes on a Plane." By this logic, "National Treasure" should have been dubbed "Not Indiana Jones" and "Weekend at Bernie's" could have been "Dead Man Walking."

Back to "Sex Drive." It is, literally, about a teenager's cross-country drive for the purpose of (hopefully) losing his virginity. So yes, the title is apropos; "The Sure Thing, 2008," could also have worked.

Josh Zuckerman plays Ian, a high school senior troubled by his lack of female success. His brother Rex, played by James Marsden, doesn't really help in this respect, since he is appalled at his 18-year-old bro's sexual resume.

But thankfully, there's the Internet, which allows Ian to create an online version of himself who can bench press 300 pounds and looks ripped. Ian soon meets a girl who seems perfect. Rex's response? "Don't you watch 'Dateline'? She's probably a guy!"

When online chickie says she wants to meet him -- that night -- it's time to steal Rex's pride and joy, a 1969 GTO. Rex's reaction is one of the film's comic highpoints, but for me, this is when things started to unravel. From then on, "Sex Drive" becomes too wacky-road-trip for its own good, losing the very minor believability it began with.

And yet -- while I'm certainly not recommending "Sex Drive" -- there are several reasons you won't come away completely disappointed:

*The performance of James Marsden: Poor James Marsden. Always the bridesmaid, etc. In the "X-Men" saga, he is Cyclops, and you probably don't remember him, unless you're an X-maniac. In "Superman Returns," he was Perry White's son. When will he get a chance to truly carry a film? Not sure, but his work in "Drive" will help. As Rex, a character in the long tradition of jerk older brothers in cinema, he is an unhinged joy, and he kept bringing to mind Bill Paxton's Chet in the 1985 teen classic "Weird Science." Hopefully, like Paxton, Marsden will someday have the opportunities he deserves.

*The performance of Seth Green: I've never been a fan of the ginger-haired annoyance; I even think his fine performance in Woody Allen's "Radio Days" could probably have been equaled by any red-haired kid with glasses. Was he fine in the "Austin Powers" flick? Sure, but so was Verne Troyer. But I have to say, he pretty much steals "Sex Drive." As a cynical Amish guy, he is a highlight, even if the wacky Amish character was seeming old back when "Kingpin" was in theaters.

*The lead actor, Josh Zuckerman: I hadn't noticed Zuckerman before this film -- his resume is mostly TV work -- but he is a winning, likable presence. He looks a bit like a young John Cusack and is an actor to keep an eye on.

*The doughnut costume: If you're aware of "Sex Drive" at all, it's probably because you've seen the quite-funny trailer, or the poster, both of which prominently featured Ian in his, ahem, work ensemble: a doughnut-with-sprinkles costume, accessorized with a sombrero, mustache, striped shirt and pants and big yellow shoes. Don't bother asking why. It's just funny.

But all of this adds up to, well, not much. After the deserved success of "Superbad," I had feared a crush of teen sex romps, which are generally utter disasters. See, for example, the "American Pie" franchise, which is actually a much closer relative to "Drive" than "Superbad." It's easy to forget that the first "Pie" film was actually pretty sweet-natured -- well, as sweet-natured as a film featuring dessert love could be.

"Superbad," though, was something else, a lovably ironic treat that captured the way teen boys actually talk, and brought to life several situations that many suburban kids have wound up in, from the scary party filled with older weirdos to the occasionally awkward nature of male friendship.

When compared with the chemistry of Michael Cera and Jonah Hill, "Sex Drive's" Zuckerman and Clark Duke just don't cut it.

So are there laughs? Sure there are. And considering the current state of the world, that counts for something. But it's hard to judge "Sex Drive" as anything special.

***

SEX DRIVE

2 stars (Out of 4)

STARRING: Josh Zuckerman, James Marsden, Amanda Crew, Katrina Bowden and Seth Green

DIRECTOR: Sean Anders

RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes

RATING: R for strong language, sexual content, nudity, and drug and alcohol use.

THE LOWDOWN: A high schooler drives across the country to meet a girl he met online.

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