NEW YORK – They're more likely to be polishing their specs than flexing their pecs. They read Voltaire instead of Maxim -- and they flaunt razor-sharp wit in place of bleached smiles.
Disaffected, precocious, world-weary -- and pretty darned cute -- the boys of summer 2002 are making female moviegoers swoon.
From Kieran Culkin's poor little rich boy in Igby Goes Down, out Sept. 13, to newcomer Aaron Stanford's philosophizing prep-school student in Tadpole, to Jake Gyllenhaal's moody, creative type in The Good Girl, a host of young rebels-without-a-cause have replaced the babes-and-beer stereotype embodied by Chris Klein and Freddie Prinze Jr. in summers past.
Call them the "Holden Caulfields" of the new millennium.
These characters, however, are more concerned with wooing older women than where the Central Park ducks go in winter -- and that broadens their fan-base to include (slightly guilty) thirtysomethings.
"They're the thinking girl's sex symbols," says Gillian Fassel, executive editor of ELLEgirl, which caters to a 15- to 19-year-old readership.
But, she adds, "I've been hearing from people in their 30s that Jake Gyllenhaal is their new crush, and I thought Kieran Culkin was really cute in Igby."
It was 51 years ago that J.D. Salinger created his literary symbol for male adolescent angst - the alienated, misunderstood protagonist of Catcher in the Rye.
We've never seen Holden personified on film, despite the book's big-screen appeal.
Nor are we likely to, as the reclusive Salinger -- burned by a Hollywood production of one of his earlier short stories -- has turned down all entreaties to sell the screen rights (including one from Miramax's Harvey Weinstein.)
Happily, we've got some pretty appealing stand-ins.
Gyllenhaal's Good Girl character even dubs himself Holden after his literary hero, on the way to stealing a thirtysomething co-worker (Jennifer Aniston) away from her husband.
These brooding types give the young men who play them a chance to show their acting chops.
Culkin, stepping well out of the shadow of older brother Macaulay, carries Igby on his shoulders -- in a cast that includes Susan Sarandon, Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman.
He manages to infuse Igby -- a troubled youngster from a dysfunctional, "old money" family -- with a compelling blend of vulnerability and cynicism.
Stanford wowed critics with an intricate performance as a passionate, intelligent kid with a Mrs. Robinson complex in Tadpole, his debut feature.
And the talented Gyllenhaal -- who'll star opposite Susan Sarandon and Dustin Hoffman in Moonlight Mile, out Sept. 27 -- made an indelible mark with The Good Girl, building on the good reviews he got for "Lovely and Amazing," in which he also wooed an older woman played by Catherine Keener.