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  DUDE, WHERE'S MY LICENSE TO DRIVE?!  
     
   
 

Karbala, Iraq. April 2, 2003, 9:40 a.m. -- The sky had turned dark, and the 3-7 infantry battalion was enveloped in dust. Despite the conditions, several units were sweeping the main streets, inspecting buildings and looking for lingering pockets of resistance.

A handful of soldiers entered a small building with a cracked façade, apparently the former home to a barbershop. There was nothing much inside, save for some overturned chairs, a counter covered in heaps of sand with the consistency of flour, and a large portrait of Saddam Hussein which is hanging crookedly by one corner on the far wall. Noticing a CNN camera operator over his shoulder, an enterprising Pfc. reached to yank down the Iraqi leader. He did so, smiling, but then furrowing his brow as he read the faces of the newsmen and his fellow soldiers.

He turned, now looking in bewilderment with the others at what had been hidden beneath the Saddam portrait. It is a full-color poster for the film "License to Drive." As the wind carried in small billows of sand and the distant crack of thunder, the fresh young faces of Corey Haim and Corey Feldman smiled down on the U.S. 3-7 infantry battalion.

 

   
 

Hollywood, CA. April 4, 2003, 1 p.m. -- The traffic on Melrose is as sluggish as Jack Black's arteries, as frustrating as a Carol Channing TV interview. In fact, it is Channing's ivory Cadillac Coup de Ville which muscles past me at the driveway to Ago, almost causing a collision of monumental proportions. It was only through luck and repeated viewings in my youth of the David Carradine film Deathrace, 2000 that I am able to avoid serious injury and/or litigation.

As the aging Hello, Dolly star exits her enormous vehicle, flipping her purse toward a bewildered parking valet and tossing her car keys over her shoulder, I pull into the lot and curse my luck. I'm at the trendy West Hollywood eatery to interview Ashton Kutcher, and it would not do for him to be the one who arrives first. It should be I,

 
 

the interviewer, sitting at a back table by myself, impatiently checking my watch. Eventually one of Kutcher's "people" would arrive, notifying me that the star would be along shortly, but he got "hung up." We would both understand that that was code for "he woke up on the bottom shelf of a hotel luggage carrier just five minutes ago, and is currently conducting a room-by-room search for his pants."

I would pretend to be upset, but secretly I would be cheering. This fits the image so perfectly. It's this blatant disregard for others, this teen idol cluelessness, this Danny Bonaduce/Adam Rich live-for-the-moment crap that lends itself to great magazine writing. That is what I do, and this is the assignment of, if not a lifetime, well, I don't know what.

It is my glorious duty to spend the day with Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott. I will not only delve deeply into their lives, but I will climb into their barren, drug-scarred souls. Kutcher, the loveable dimwit from That '70s Show, and Scott, the snarky jock in American Pie, have recently become America's favorite same-sex fun couple. In Dude, Where's My Car? they have set a new standard for dumb buddy movies … OK, admittedly the bar wasn't set that high to begin with. But more than that, they have become an inseparable duo in real life, a younger Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, but without the annoying talent. They are 1.40 blood-alcohol-level brothers who hold a pubescent America in the palms of their hands.

OK, let's just say it: they are the Coreys for a new generation. Kutcher and Scott are glowing with teen-idol heat not felt since the late 1980s, when Corey Haim and Corey Feldman ruled in films such as The Lost Boys and Blown Away. Now, apparently, the torch has been passed. And I wanted their story.

Dude, Where's My Spectrophotometer?

I enter the restaurant and find, to my surprise, Kutcher is already there. In fact he had been early, and was engaged in a heated discussion of some sort with the waiter. Presumably the server had an opinion on the quality of Just Married, Kutcher's most recent film in which he co-starred with Brittany Murphy. Or perhaps it was simply a difference of opinion on the direction that his character, Micheal Kelso, was taking on That '70s Show. As I approach, the waiter politely departs.

I introduce myself. "I noticed that you were arguing with the waiter," I observe. "I suppose you must get that a lot. Was it over one of your movies?"

Kutcher laughs.

"The guy is a medical student at UCLA, and we were discussing protein engineering," he says, taking a swig from an Evian bottle. "In one of his experiments, he described the process of hydrolysis without referring to the peptide bonds that hold various amino acids together. Imagine."

Kutcher produces a ballpoint pen, and begins sketching frenetically on the tablecloth. "During hydrolysis, protein molecules are broken down, releasing smaller polypeptides and individual amino acid units," he explains, now using a compass to make perfect circles on the cloth to represent soil bacteria. "Generally, polymers made of less than one hundred amino acid monomer units are … but you didn't come here to discuss this, did you?"

What was going on? Was this an act? Was I the foil in some sort of elaborate gag for a reality show? I had checked Kutcher's bio, noting that he had majored in Biochemical Engineering at the University of Iowa. But I thought that had just been put in there for laughs.

We order. Over fresh bread, an earthy virgin olive oil and chocolate fettuccine, we discuss the situation in the Middle East ("by invading Iraq we risk alienating the entire world community and setting off a chain reaction of anti-Americanism," he says), the environment, the economy, and literature. He does a set of impressions, including a spot-on Norman Mailer. When I talk, he listens attentively, tenting his fingers and nodding respectfully.

I tell him that my magazine will pick up the check, but he's having none of it. "Allow me," he says, dabbing his napkin to his lips with one hand while picking up the bill with the other. "Come on, it's time to go. We have to meet Seann." Kutcher leaves a generous tip, which he calculates in his head -- exactly 20.9 percent. He waits for the receipt. "Tax purposes," he explains.

DER GEKKE, Wo is mein Auto?

We turn onto La Cienega Boulevard in Kutcher's '99 Totoya Camry, and I'm getting worried. He never goes over the speed limit, and even allows four car lengths between his car and the driver in front of us. At one point a black Mercedes cuts us off, and Kutcher gives a playful wave. "To each his own," he says, readjusting the rear-view mirror. "I don't believe in spreading bad karma."

By the age of 26, Corey Haim had been arrested for stalking, had declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and had been enrolled in the Betty Ford Clinic three times for drug and alcohol dependency. Corey Feldman had also struggled with his demons, culminating in a 1990 arrest for heroin possession at the age of 18. I went over this mental checklist as I watch Kutcher dutifully write down his mileage just before we pull out of a Chevron station. As we merge into traffic, he uses both his blinker and an arm signal.

Scott had better be one weird-ass piece of work, because as of now I have no story. Here's a thought: Perhaps Kutcher didn't come out of his shell unless Scott was there. Yes, that was it. Like two inert chemical liquids, they don't become volatile unless mixed. Let the debauchery begin.

We take the 210 out through Pasadena and head to Claremont. We pull up to a building in the Civic Center, and there is Scott, signing autographs for a group of German tourists.

"Wo is mein Auto?" they shout, laughing and clapping the blond actor on the back. Scott answers in perfect German.

Finally he piles into the car and we head back toward the city.

Kutcher and Scott greet each other with some sort of secret handshake. Scott produces gum, and asks us if we want a piece. Hmm. This can't be good.

I ask Scott about the recently released Bulletproof Monk. But he steers the conversation in another direction. He had been in Claremont volunteering for Shoes That Fit, an organization that helps needy schoolchildren by providing them with new shoes. Scott is on the their board of directors, and they are in the midst of a loafer drive.

"Many of us take our shoes for granted," said Scott, leaning over the front seat and gesturing emphatically. "Children who have grossly inadequate shoes cannot concentrate on learning. Many are in physical pain, but most damaging is the shame these students feel when others make fun of their shoes."

With his breakthrough performance as Steve Stifler in 1999's American Pie, Scott established himself as one of the most prolific teen comedy stars of his generation. From Final Destination and Road Trip to American Pie 2, he has taken the Corey baton and run with it like no other. Scott's recent appearance on Late Night With Conan O'Brien was Corey through and through: My heart actually, literally skipped a beat when he said, in all earnestness: "I wasn't going to do American Pie 3 under any circumstances, but it was such a great script, I couldn't say no."

The only question concerning Scott seemed to be, which Corey would he turn out to be?

But now that I was in his presence, my hopes were being pummeled. Scott had left high school at the age of 16 -- his bio leading one to believe that he had just dropped out. In fact he had graduated early, an entirely different deal. He was born and raised in Cottage Grove, MN. It was as if "Woody" from Cheers had suddenly sprung to life and was with us in the car. Only this Woody was smart.

God damn it.

Scott bangs the headrest with the heel of his fist.

"We can provide these children with adequate shoes," he says, tears welling in his eyes. "Once they see that learning can be comfortable, there is no limit to what they can achieve."

I put away my notebook, and give him a cash donation of $10, which he places in his shirt pocket.

"He gets like this sometimes," explains Kutcher. "The only thing that gets his mind off shoes is a trip to Disneyland. How can you stay sad while you're watching those playful chipmunks, Chip and Dale?"

"Um, are we …"

"Don't worry," says Scott. "We can get you in for free."

We head south, toward Anaheim, and The Happiest Place on Earth. I peer out the back window with my face pressed against the glass, like a reluctant kid on his way to summer camp. Soon the show tunes will begin.

Tell the world my story.

Manhattan, April 6, 2003, 7 p.m. -- I step into the cab at Lexington and 42nd, in midtown. The driver switches on the meter and we head toward Long Island. The driver is a middle-aged gentleman who appears to be from the Middle East.

"I've just been to California," I say out loud, not knowing if he's listening, or if he indeed even understands English. "I was supposed to be doing this story on how Ashton Kutcher and Seann William Scott are the next Coreys, but it didn't work out. They were fakes. Their films make them appear to be drugged-out losers, but they don't live up to it in real life. It turns out they aren't Coreys at all."

There is a pause.

"I came to your country because of your Coreys," says the driver, not taking his eyes off the road. "Prayer of the Rollerboys, Snowboard Academy, The Double O Kid, National Lampoon's Last Resort -- I have seen them all."

"You're kidding."

"In what other country would you have Coreys?" he asks. "They could exist nowhere else in the world. Your Coreys are what makes you great."

There is another long pause.

"Keep looking," he says, heading onto the bridge. "Perhaps Frankie Muniz and Justin Berfield will get into some sort of trouble."

One can only hope.

 

*BT*

Rick Chandler is the former managing editor of Ironminds.com, and is now a columnist for NBCSports.com. He owns many attractive ties.