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Love Don't Cost A Thing
(Widescreen)

review by Zach B.

 

 

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (For Sexual Content/Humor)

Running Time: 101 minutes

Starring: Nick Cannon, Christina Milian, Kenan Thompson, Kal Penn, Steve Harvey

Screenplay by: Troy Beyer and Michael Swerdlick
Based upon the screenplay "Can't Buy Me Love" by: Michael Swerdlick

Directed by: Troy Beyer

 

Studio: Warner Brothers

Retail Price: $27.95

Features: Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending, Making-Of Featurette, Music Videos, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (28 Scenes)

Released: April 27th, 2004

 

 

Like it or loathe it, "Can't Buy Me Love" is an 80s teen... um, maybe "classic" isn't the right word to use. Even if the movie has its fair share of fans (who probably are way too nostalgic and have seen every single part of VH-1's "I Love The 80s" about fifty times), but I'm not sure how many people were clammoring for a remake. I still argue that Hollywood is running out of ideas, but "Love Don't Cost A Thing" was probably meant more as a vehicle for rising actor/pop star Nick Cannon. But no matter, since the teen genre has been limping along for awhile and this film bombed at the box office. Personally though, I doubt that'll teach Hollywood from copying absurd 80s movies as long as there are executives who THINK those kinds of movies can make money.

In this new version, we have California teen Alvin Johnson (Nick Cannon). Alvin, a senior in high school, is a hard working pool boy and auto shop worker with a passion for car engineering (and who also has a shot at a scholarship). But even though his class days are winding down, Alvin seems a lot more interested in having fun memories and yearns to be popular. But Alvin and three friends are labeled losers, and Alvin's dreams of being noticed - especially by the lush Paris Morgan (Christina Milian) - don't seem to be coming true in the near future.

But as luck would have it, Paris crashes her mother's SUV while she's away and needs it fixed pronto. Paris doesn't have the money, but Alvin works at the auto shop where she brings it in. Alvin offers to help her, using his hard earned cash (meant for a car part to help win his scholarship). Of course there's a catch: Paris has to pretend to be Alvin's girlfriend for two weeks. While she's not thrilled at the prospect, she reluctantly agrees and in no time flat, Alvin begins a radical transformation from uber-nerd to a hot shot "playa." But things go too far as Alvin begins to alienate his true friends and family. While Paris may be secretly falling for the real "Al," Alvin himself must learn that there's more to life than popularity and that everything comes at a cost.

Even though critics were pretty ruthless in tearing apart this movie, I actually kinda liked this redoing. Yes it's filled with a lot of clichés and some stereotypes, but I found "Love Don't Cost A Thing" to be pretty entertaining as far as guilty pleasures go. It's supposed to be a light teen film, and it exceeds on that level. It certainly has all the elements of a typical teen movie: all the attractive young people (with the exception of Kenan Thompson - OOOH DISS KENAN! - you all know I'm just messin'), the barrage of pop songs and of course, the whole high school setting. But I am a little leniant toward the movie, because even though it doesn't cover any new territory or makes any fresh attempts to re-invent the whell, its heart is in exactly the right place. Countless of other movies have covered the very same themes, but the concept of being true to yourself and things will happen the right way because of it will always be true.

Even though I enjoyed the movie on certain merits, I wish I could actually give the movie more credibility as it could have developed a lot better. Instead, it takes the easy ways out. Even if it can be fun, the whole thing is hardly believable. Paris is set up at the beginning as someone who has kindness in her and is sensitive, but she acts like a total bitch when she sets up the deal with Alvin and doesn't act appreciative at all. I see her being upset with the car and all, but then it's back to her being popular and establishing that she's a decent person inside. The deal-making scene is important, but it ends up disjointing things slightly instead of clicking it all together.

I was also confused about what Alvin's true desires. It's established early on that he wants to be popular, but I was also under the impression that he also really wanted to actually have a relationship with Paris (what else would be the point of his drooling and poolside fantasy?). So you could only imagine my shock (or apathy) when his whole transformation suddenly becomes about popularity only, and even though Alvin and Paris have a no-touch agreement, I'd imagine he'd at least try some ways to get close to her. But no, Alvin ends up winning her heart pretty indirectly.

Most problematic is how the most of the story takes place over a two week time span - a month or longer probably would have been better (I'm guessing three weeks in total this story takes place over, because things happen after the two week period). As a result, things happen way too suddenly and that takes away a lot. In the movies, popularity seems to work slightly differently. Alvin becomes a little more recognized because he hangs out with Paris. But then all of a sudden, he's some kind of king because he fixes a car with a condom (no joke). There's also nothing gradual about Alvin's change either: he's nerdy and then really popular, and then really, really popular and obnoxious (I guess that condom bridged the gap to give him so much respect). And then there's Paris falling for Alvin. Sure, his sweet side comes out here and there, and based on that, she decides she loves him.

And how can I forget the pretty anti-climatic ending? It feels strangely 80s-ish in nature, but it's underplayed way too much. Oh, and Alvin makes a pretty lame "inspriational" speech at the end that somehow wins over the entire school (whoops, spoiler). I have no problem with monologues that are supposed to tie the story up, but it could have been said a lot better and maybe make some stronger points. I'm still kind of weirded out by the fact that the original writer of "Can't Buy Me Love" actually co-wrote the remake. Either Michael Swerdlick is protective of his work or was really borded needed the money bad.

This film is labeled a comedy, but it fails to achieve any real sense of humor. I guess when you've seen one "nerd-tries-to-act-cool" joke you've seen them all, but there's a lack of fresh wit or anything remotely amusing throughout. The jokes are obvious ("URKEL HAS GONE GANGSTA!") and come across as very ridiculous (comparing a girl to a Starbucks drink is supposed to be funny?). There's also nothing original when it comes to the situational comedy too, as it doesn't try to be different. But then again, this is a teen film, so I did come in expecting lots of familarility.

Still, the film's main source of humor is supposed to come from Steve Harvey as Alvin's father, but it just ends up being incredibly disturbing. Harvey is obnoxious and annoying as a former "playa" trying to live vicariously through his son. Other than the character being obsessed with soul music, he also has a real condom fetish as two scenes between the father and his son will make you cringe and may even make you feel rather dirty. However, Harvey does get a chance to redeem himself in the end with real fatherly and useful advice but his character is still hard to love and enjoy, let alone laugh with or at. I don't know if he's supposed to be like Jim's Dad from the "American Pie" movies, but this wild and crazy guy just doesn't work. Maybe if he was toned down, and something more substantial was established between him and his son, it would work a lot better and would be a lot easier to buy into.

What probably keeps the film together, and work better than it should, are its two leads: Nick Cannon and Christina Milian. The two have a natural chemistry together in all their scenes, so how they interact with each other when Alvin is popular and when he is not is pretty interesting. Nick Cannon is particuarly good here: his geeky uneasiness and hardworking style are very believable, and you know he hits it right because when he becomes a great big jerk, a job Cannon does well, the old and new Alvin seem like two totally different people. Milian on maybe easy on the eyes, but she's also a good actress who actually does show a range of emotions in the movie: frustration, jealousy, being smitten and even some insecuirity. Thankfully, the two young actors do end up overcoming their cliched backstories: Alvin seeking to gain a scholarship with his car engine and Paris trying to be taken seriously when it comes to her being a singer-songwriter.

"Love Don't Cost A Thing" has energy and its own quirks, but it's hard to truly recommend since it is incredibly predictable and very standard (well, it is a remake after all). The movie really suffers when it comes to the consistency of the characters and using logic, not to mention that it's guilty of making things happen way too quickly. It does have some charms that are enjoyable, but this movie is strictly for its aimed-at teen audience and those lovers of teen movies (such as myself). While "Love Don't Cost A Thing" is not one of the best in such an overridden genre, there have been other teen movies that are far worse. Far, far worse.

 

Being released in separate widescreen and full screen version, the 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen version looks rather cheap. At times the image looks overexposed, but it never captures any sharpness throughout and often comes across soft looking. A few scratches, dirt pieces and a moderate amount of blemishes are on the print, while there is some noise and edge halos to be found. Detail isn't anything too special, while color saturation and fleshtones rank as decent. The film's budget wasn't incredibly high, but I think a better job could have been done on this.

 

The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is pretty good and does everything the film calls for. Much of the mix depends on the music, since there is such a heavy use of songs throughout the movie. The songs are mixed well through the speakers as it hooks onto a party vibe, but at times the music drowns out the dialogue (which other than those instances is easy to listen to). There are some surround effects, such as at the beach party or when it comes to Paris' car crash, but the mix is ultimately pretty front heavy with some average subwoofer use. Dynamics are a bit above average overall, but I was surprised at the slightly low fidelity. There is also a Dolby Digital 5.1 track in French, subtitles in English, French and Spanish and English closed captioning.

 

There's not too much here, but the only really decent thing to talk about are the Deleted Scenes and Alternate Ending, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. There are no explanations of these cuts, but they really don't add up to much other than hammering in the point about Alvin's surge in popularity and him alienating his true friends, plus their attempts to be cool. However, there is a scene that I liked the idea of, but didn't actually like: Paris has a talk with her mother about her father and the nature of love. I think if Paris's mother played a more active role in the movie, and if this scene was done differently, it would have helped the film. As far as the alternate ending goes, I liked it a lot - in fact, it's one of the rare cases that I liked it better than what was used in the final film.

There's only one other major extra, but I didn't really like it: your standard making-of featurette entitled The Making Of Love Don't Cost A Thing. Filled with film clips, on the set footage and the usual interviews with the main cast members and some of the crew, the interviewees all go on about the point of the movie and why they think it's so great. And since studios love cross-promotion, there is some things on the making of the two music videos meant to tie in with the film.

Speaking of those two Music Videos, they're both on the disc! What a shock: "Shorty (Put It On The Floor)" features Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Chingy and Nick Cannon and then there's "Luv Me Baby" by Murphy Lee. Rounding out the package is the film's Theatrical Trailer in Dolby Surround and anamorphic widescreen.

 

This teen remake wasn't popular in theaters, and I don't see it gaining a bigger audience in the near future with this DVD release. But if you're into teen movies and want some fluffy entertainment for an evening, give it a rent. The DVD extras don't amount to very much, the actual transfer is pretty average and the sound mix is what you'd expect. While it may not be a must purchase, those who liked the movie will be content with this package.