Of all the teen sex comedies that have come down the pike in recent years, this one—despite its unfortunate title—most closely recaptures the spirit of the John Hughes movies of the eighties. “Sex Drive” takes obvious elements from “Sixteen Candles,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Weird Science” and cobbles them together with dollops of the more explicit crudity characteristic of contemporary flicks. The result isn’t the equal of its eighties models, but it retains enough of their charm and good-nature to register as a mildly pleasant surprise.

The hapless schmuck at the center of the plot is Ian Lafferty (Josh Zuckerman), a sad-sack Chicago high school student who works at a mall doughnut shop, often in an embarrassing costume, and has had no luck at romance—something that his loud-mouth, bullying older brother Rex (James Marsden) constantly berates him about. Actually Ian’s gaga over his best pal Felicia (Amanda Crew), but she doesn’t want sex to ruin their friendship, and in any event has eyes for somebody else.

Unable to find a real girl, Ian has started an online chat with a sexy babe (Katrina Bowden) in Knoxville, who invites him to visit her with a promise that she’ll relieve him of his virginity at long last. Under pressure from his buddy Lance (Clark Duke), a well-to-do womanizer despite the fact that he’s kind of a nerdy type, Ian “borrows” his bro’s souped-up Pontiac GTO for the trip, and before long he and Lance—along with Felicia, who tags along—are on the road.

You can pretty much predict that they’ll have a slew of comic adventures that delay them along the way. The best of them involves Seth Green as Ezechiel, an Amish fellow with a gift for sly sarcasm who proves an adept mechanic after the trio have a disastrous run-in with a mangy hitchhiker (the omnipresent David Koechner), even though the other Amish-related stuff is pretty lame (including Lance’s romance with Mary, a member of the group played by Alice Greczyn). Naturally Rex discovers Ian’s theft of his car and follows on his motorcycle to deal with his brother. Everything winds up at a Knoxville parking lot where Ian discovers that the Internet can be a misleading dating service and Felicia finally admits what we’ve known all along.

There are parts of “Sex Drive” that should have been cut—especially since the movie runs 109 minutes, way too long for this sort of thing. The most obvious choice would be the ultra-gross sequence in which Lance hits the sack with a truck-stop waitress at her family’s trailer; the bedroom action is disgusting (and frankly out of character with most of the movie, which is certainly suggestive and features some nudity but mostly avoids the foul language and sleaziness of many flicks like this), but a sight gag involving the woman’s father is equally bad. But overall there’s a sweetness running through the interaction of the three principals that’s rather quaintly old-fashioned and appealing. Even the gay-bashing rants of Rex are given a nifty twist at the end that will undoubtedly not sit well with the louts in the audience who’ve been chortling in agreement with them.

And the cast is surprisingly likable, with the three leads—though clearly too old for their roles—keeping things afloat even over the more unfortunate patches. Zuckerman’s an amiable goof and Crew an attractive romantic interest, while Duke makes Lance not the usual slob friend but an articulate if libidinous guy. (If a script ever calls for somebody to play Rainn Wilson’s younger brother, incidentally, Duke’s the guy to go to.) Marsden comes on awfully strong as the Chet-like horror of an older brother, but so did Bill Paxton, and at least he’s game; and Green’s smooth scene-stealing works every time he appears. Technically there’s nothing special here, and some of the scenes look unappetizingly tacky, but by and large Tim Orr’s cinematography is okay. As noted above, though, editor George Folsey could have employed his scissors to greater effect.

“Sex Drive” isn’t really a good movie, but compared to the usual line of junk in this genre, it’s comparatively tolerable—except for that awful trailer scene, that is.