"Loser" starts well enough. A hick with a hunter's hat and a hangdog look (Jason Biggs) is having trouble fitting in with his three college roommates. While he studies to keep his scholarship, they noisily do shots cued by dialogue on a "Rhoda" rerun. ("Hi Ma" is the signal to down a vodka.) He meets an impossibly appealing co-ed (Mena Suvari) and we are set for the kind of roller coaster of emotions and keen insights that Heckerling has done so brilliantly before. But it never comes. The story evolves so leisurely and in such an uninvolving way that the roller coaster turns into a teacup ride.
Part of the problem is the character played by Biggs. He is such a nice guy that it's hard to feel anything for him. He is drawn to be a stark contrast to Suvari's frenetic student and Greg Kinnear's lecherous professor, but he all but disappears in the process. He is so passive he doesn't even get energized when he discovers that the reason Suvari didn't show up for a date was because she was unconscious after having her juice spiked with a date rape drug. What he needed was a lot more of the animation that the last owner of his Mo Howard hairdo exhibited.
The movie occasionally has flashes of vintage Heckerling. In a hilarious unbilled cameo, David Spade explains why "The Piano" is not a good date movie. (Hint: Harvey Keitel naked). But those moments are far too few. Still, Heckerling made a landmark movie young people in the '80s and another in the '90s. There's still lots of time to do one for the '00s. Starring Jason Biggs, Mena Suvari and Greg Kinnear. Directed and written by Amy Heckerling. Produced by Amy Heckerling and Twink Caplan. A Columbia release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG-13 for drug content, crude sexual material and language. Running time: 98 min