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'The To Do List' review: High ick factor

Aubrey Plaza as Brandy Klark in a scene

Aubrey Plaza as Brandy Klark in a scene from "The To Do List." Credit: AP

In "The To Do List," high-school valedictorian Brandy Klark resolves to lose her virginity before heading to Georgetown for college. Everyone else is doing it, so why shouldn't she? You know where this kind of comedy usually goes: Brandy will realize that sex should be shared with the right person.

Well, that was then and "The To Do List" is now. It aims to join the recent trend toward female-centric raunch, including major releases like "Bridesmaids" and independent films like "For a Good Time Call . . ." The thinking is that men have dominated gross-out comedies and pervy sex-comedies for too long, which may be true. But "The To Do List," the feature debut of writer-director Maggie Carey, is so determined to one-up the boys that it goes overboard, misses its mark and accidentally makes an entirely different kind of statement.

Aubrey Plaza, of NBC's "Parks and Recreation" (and of last year's indie charmer "Safety Not Guaranteed"), is occasionally endearing as Brandy, an uptight goody-goody unfamiar with even the basics of sex. Figuring that experience will prepare her for the ultimate goal of a night with hunky dunderdead Rusty Waters (Scott Porter), Klark compiles a checklist of acts ranging from the basic to the wildly esoteric. She then goes searching for willing partners.

Questions abound, but more for us than for Brandy. What's the challenge when everyone -- including Brandy's friends (Alia Shawkat and the adorable Sarah Steele), her older sister (Rachel Bilson) and even geeky Duffy (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) -- is so incredibly sexually experienced? In what world do teens treat sex so blithely and passionlessly? "The To-Do List" -- set, oddly, in 1993 -- wants to find humor in the humiliation of early sexual encounters, but nobody in this film seems capable of humiliation. The icky jokes, and everyone's blithe attitude, feel less like "Little Darlings" than Larry Clark's "Kids."

A further role-reversal comes from the character of Cameron (Johnny Simmons), the boy who mistakenly believes his run-ins with Brandy mean something. Eventually, even he gives in. "The To Do List" puts its garbled message -- pro-promiscuity, with an obligatory nod to sensitivity -- in his mouth. "Sex is no big deal," he says, finally. "I mean, it's a big deal. But it's not such a big deal."

PLOT A high-school senior decides to lose her virginity before going to college.

RATING R (vulgar humor, language and sexuality)

CAST Aubrey Plaza, Johnny Simmons, Alia Shawkat, Christopher Mintz-Plasse.


BOTTOM LINE A fake feminist comedy that pays lip service to female empowerment but inadvertently makes sex seem both demeaning and meaningless. Vulgar, cynical and rarely funny.

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