High on the list of Questions That Need Answering is this puzzler: Who actually thought it necessary to remake an already paper-thin 1987 teen comedy called Can’t Buy Me Love?
The original was lightweight enough, and mostly notable as Patrick Dempsey’s big-break film. Though nothing special, it was harmless and agreeable enough, and had the good sense to be a scant 94 minutes. This new version adds 11 minutes — and nothing else, except tedium.
Original screenwriter Michael Swerdlick (of sitcoms like Who’s the Boss? and Doogie Howser, M.D.) and co-writer/director Troy Beyer have exactly one “inspiration” — to take the suburban, white-bread concept and make the characters middle- and upper-middle-class blacks. Otherwise, the level of creativity extends to such world-astounding changes as making the lead a nerdy pool boy instead of a nerdy lawn boy.
The plots are identical in nearly every other respect. Alvin Johnson (Nick Cannon, Drumline) makes a deal with popular cheerleader Paris Morgan (Christina Milian, American Pie): He’ll fix the car she wrecked before her mother returns from a trip if she’ll pose as his girlfriend for two weeks. The idea is that this will wash away his nerd status and make him one of the “cool people.” Of course, he’s going to fall in love with her and vice versa, but not before he becomes an arrogant jerk and alienates both her and his old nerd friends.
Yes, we’ve seen it all before, and doubtless we’ll see it all again — though I’m not sure we can hope to ever see it any worse. While Cannon is an innately likable screen presence, he doesn’t exactly shine here as an actor. It’s a toss-up as to whether he’s more embarrassing as a caricature nerd, or as a caricature playa. Both incarnations are pretty offensive, though the fact that his playa is somewhat less believable than Jamie Kennedy in Malibu’s Most Wanted probably tips the scales in the nerd direction.
Christina Milian comes off slightly better (but only slightly), though much of the problem with her character lies in the writing, which is simply not very good. Then there’s the question of the casually accepted level of teen sex presented in the film, especially given Love Don’t Cost a Thing‘s presumed 12-to-17-year-old target audience. There’s little room for doubt that Paris didn’t snare her big catch — NBA star Dru Hilton (Elimu Nelson, Love & Sex) — by engaging in marathon Parcheesi matches with him. (I’m guessing that the fact that if Paris married Dru, her name would be Paris Hilton, is unintentional — but I wouldn’t commit to a wager on it.) It may be realistic, but this isn’t a film that exactly trades in realism; regardless, it’s a dubious message to send to youthful viewers.
But all that to one side, the movie is an utter nightmare of bad first-year-film-school technique from director Beyer, who uses focus-shifts and “clever” camera placements with such pointless abandon that it makes your head hurt. Just catch the sequence where the camera is inside various cupboards — and even in a microwave! Apparently, Beyer never heard Alfred Hitchcock’s famous remark about shots from the vantage point of the back of a fireplace (“I always wonder who’s in the fireplace”), and Sir Alfred wasn’t exactly known for eschewing showy camerawork. This is the kind of window-dressing that smacks of a director trying to gussy up a lame screenplay by tossing in distracting visuals — but since Beyer co-wrote the script, there’s not much question of where to place the blame.
The ineptitude doesn’t stop there. Gags are set up and the payoff is left out (surely, this didn’t originally run longer than it does now!). While the original film had a pretty funny gag involving Dempsey getting a dance-instruction TV show mixed up with an anthropological show involving some native anteater dance-ritual (thanks to a younger sibling), the “updated” film sets this up with an unbelievable instructional video on martial arts mambo dancing (who would have such a thing on hand?). But then we wait reels and reels for a payoff, only to get one that completely omits the truly funny aspect of the original film — where someone actually recognizes the source of the dance.
Love Don’t Cost a Thing is full of this sort of sloppiness. Frankly, the best thing that can be said about it is that it’ll vanish without a trace in a week or two. Love may not cost a thing, but this movie’ll cost you the price of a ticket — and more of your time than it’s worth.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke