"Whatever It Takes", the latest teen movie riff on a classic literary story -- in this instance, "Cyrano de Bergerac" -- substitutes sitcom predictability for satirical insights into love and passion. Lacking stars and going up against two other teen films this weekend -- "Romeo Must Die" and "Here on Earth" -- this Columbia Pictures release will not attract much of an audience beyond a few young women.
The film does have two good things going for it in Shane West
and Marla Sokoloff
, who play next-door neighbors and best pals. West and Sokoloff have amiable, charming screen personalities. The camera likes them and the easygoing manner in which they express and expose the inner lives of their characters.
Both are miscast here, though, in the sense that no one is going to buy them as school outsiders, unable to get dates or fit in with any crowd. West's Ryan doesn't necessarily need a huge proboscis like Cyrano was inflicted with. But when you look as cool and together as West, playing an accordion is not going to be a major social handicap.
Even more confusing is Sokoloff's Maggie. She's beautiful, bright and sensitive. So what's wrong with Ryan's eyesight that he's content to remain her best pal?
But Mark Schwahn's script insists that Ryan has lost his heart to the school's "It" girl, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe's Ashley, who keeps young male hearts as trophies. Meanwhile, James Franco
's chick magnet Chris wants Maggie, the only girl who won't give him the time of day.
Chris persuades Ryan to school him in how to hide his macho mentality under a facade of fake sentiment to get Maggie's attention. He in turn will teach Ryan how sarcasm and disdain is the way to win over his cousin Ashley.
"Whatever It Takes" doesn't just misread Edmond Rostand
's play but dumbs down the material. Schwahn and director David Raynr
insist that the characters are either shallow or insincere. Their comedy goes for tired, lowest-common-denominator gags. And, most damaging of all, the film lacks vitality. The slavish devotion to formula hamstrings the cast and provides no inspiration for the technical crew to give the film any visual spark.
The film is curiously timid in its approach to its characters. Not only do its makers seem to have one eye on the film's rating in their tame stabs at sex and bathroom humor, but unlike its robust predecessor, "Whatever It Takes" fails to explore the emotional chaos and divided feelings passion brings to humans.
No blood pounds in its characters' hearts; no confusion lurks within their brains. They are instead not only single-minded, but simple-minded as well. Makers of teen films surely need to give teens more credit.
WHATEVER IT TAKES
Producer: Paul Schiff
Director: David Raynr
Screenwriter: Mark Schwahn
Executive producer: Bill Brown, Vicki Dee Rock
Director of photography: Tim Suhrstedt
Production designer: Edward T. McAvoy
Music: Edward Shearmur
Co-producers: Matt Berenson
, Mark Schwahn
Costume designer: Leesa Evans
Editor: Ronald Roose
Ryan: Shane West
Maggie: Marla Sokoloff
Ashley: Jodi Lyn O'Keefe
Chris: James Franco
Floyd: Aaron Paul
Cosmo: Colin Hanks
Dunleavy: Manu Intiraymi
Kate Woodman: Julia Sweeney
Running time -- 92 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13