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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 19, 2001

Movie Scene
'Riding in Cars' is insipid pity-poor-me chick flick

By Marshall Fine
The (Westchester, N.Y.) Journal News

RIDING IN CARS WITH BOYS (Rated PG-13 for drug use, violence, profanity). One and One-Half Stars (Poor-to-Fair).

An overlong, weepy film that asks us to root for a young woman who instinctively makes wrong decisions about her life. Starring Drew Barrymore, Steve Zahn, James Woods. Directed by Penny Marshall. Columbia Pictures, 125 mins.

When smart girls do dumb things, well, what else to do next but write a book about it?

Or so it seems from "Riding in Cars with Boys," based on a memoir by Beverly Donofrio. This Penny Marshall film, her first in several years, is a chick flick of the "poor-me" variety, disguised as a tale of personal strength in the face of adversity.

It would be easier to care about the fate of young Beverly, as played by Drew Barrymore, if she weren't so insistent on doing absolutely the wrong thing at any given moment. Life, as she points out to her best friend Fay (Brittany Murphy), is "really only four or five big days that change everything."

Told in gratuitous flashback form, "Riding in Cars" uses a grown-up Beverly as the framing device. She's riding from New York back to her hometown of Wallingford, Conn. Having written "Riding in Cars," she now needs her ex-husband, Ray, to sign a release giving her permission to publish what she has written about him.

Cut to Beverly as a teen in 1965. At a party, she works up the courage to tell the high school football star how cool she thinks he is, only to get blown off in a very public humiliation.

She hides in the bathroom, where she meets Ray (Steve Zahn) and finds herself swept away by his self-deprecating doofiness. He's bad news and he tells her so, but he's also so sweet that she can't resist him.

He's so irresistible, in fact, that he gets her pregnant, then offers to marry her: "You are not the guy I was supposed to end up with," she wails, even as she endures a joyless wedding presided over by her angry cop-father (James Woods).

She has the baby, drops out of high school and starts studying for her G.E.D. She has aspirations of being a writer, though Ray plunks her down in a squalid cul de sac and fulfills all of his potential for causing trouble.

From there, the film alternates between scenes designed to show us Beverly's plucky spunk and each colossal disappointment that befalls her.

Barrymore gives a decent, if sometimes overwrought, performance, one that shows more acting ability than many of her other vehicles. But she fights a losing cause. Marshall hammers away at the emotions, making sure you not only get it but that you are thoroughly coated with it.

Marshall's film is so cluttered — with dialogue and period touches — that even the background voices become intrusive. It is almost as if Marshall, while sitting in the editing room, decided any quiet moment required the insertion of an off-screen voice to say exactly what the audience was thinking at that moment.

"Riding in Cars with Boys" is a heavy-handed sobfest in which we are asked to root for someone who seems destined to defeat herself. More likely, you'll walk out shaking your head at the slim trajectory of her learning curve.

Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity, drug use.