"Love Don't Cost a Thing," but this DVD do. Does. And it ain't worth it.
Cowriter Michael Swerdlick based this 2003 release on the screenplay for his own 1987, run-of-the-mill teen comedy "Can't Buy Me Love." But by updating the language, clothing, and manners of teenagers to a later time period and by changing the lead couple from white to black, Swerdlick has made story no better. Indeed, it's even less funny than before.
You wonder if you're not in trouble when you read in the opening credits that was film was cowritten by two different people and produced by four more. Then, you know ya got trouble (right here in River City) when every actor playing a teen looks about twenty-five or thirty. Actually, a check of their ages reveals the actors playing teens are all in their early to late twenties, which is a well-established Hollywood tradition in teen flicks but still hard to get used to.
Nick Cannon is the star. He's the TV guy from "All That" and the recent movie "Drumline." Here, he plays a nerd named Alvin Johnson, who hangs out with other nerd losers and is looked down upon and laughed at by every other kid in high school. But it's OK because all of the same trite cliques we expect in a film like this are well-integrated and politically correct. Alvin's nerd group consists of two blacks and two non-blacks. So are all the other groups racially equally well mixed, the jocks, the cheerleaders, the geeks, the goths, etc. No races hang out exclusively with each other; this film is taking no chances. Alvin's group consists of himself, Walter (Kenan Thompson), Chuck (Kevin Christy), and Kenneth (Kal Penn). They're working on an engineering project they hope will win them an all-expenses-paid scholarship to the college of their choice.
But not before Nick discovers girls. When the cutest, most popular cheerleader in school, Paris Morgan (Christina Milian), wrecks her mother's car, she needs to get it fixed in a hurry. Nick decides to use the money he was saving for the science project to fix the girl's car in exchange for her going out with him for a few weeks and pretending to be his girlfriend. No sex, he says (this is, after all, a PG-13 rated film); he just wants to rent her for a while in order to be popular at school.
The ploy works. With Paris's help, Alvin becomes enormously popular. He learns to dress cool and act cool and be cool. His new rep goes to his head, and he gives up all his old nerd friends and then he gives up Paris, too, because he becomes too cool for her. We can see at a glance where all of this is going, and that's where it does go. We learn that popularity isn't everything, that you should to be yourself, and the movie ends.
In order for a film of this type to work, it's got to have a lead character who's charismatic, a pace that's steady, and a load of gags that are funny. "Love Don't Cost a Thing" has none of them. Alvin is a jerk when he's unpopular and an even bigger creep and jerk when he becomes popular. We don't for a minute feel anything for him, and we come to dislike him more and more as the film goes on. The director, Troy Beyer, did only one other feature film, the low-budget "Let's Talk About Sex," but she was allowed to helm this major motion picture for a major movie company. I'm not sure why. Her idea of innovative cinematography is to film a shot from the inside of a microwave oven looking out. Medium-to-close shots, quick edits, and loud music are the rule. Yet the pace still feels like a slug on NyQuil.
And as for funny gags, there aren't any. Alvin squirts himself in the eye with breath spray. Paris is so "with it" she uses three cell phones. People run into locker doors. Alvin's father offers his son his cache of prophylactics when he goes out on his first date. A fight almost breaks out in front of a gym full of people at a basketball game, and there isn't a single adult who interferes or even comes near it, not a teacher, not an administrator, not a coach. It's all incredible, preposterous, sitcom fare.
"Love Don't Cost a Thing" ultimately comes across as a nasty, mean-spirited movie, despite a corny piece of sentiment at the end when Alvin finally recognizes the error of his ways. The film offers no laughs, just feints and stabs at humor at the expense of clichés and stereotypes.
In fact, the movie borders on cruelty to its audience.
The anamorphic widescreen video is presented in a ratio measuring approximately 1.74:1 across a normal television. A respectably high bit rate ensures that the colors are deep and grain is nonexistent, but the definition is still slightly blurry. This leads me to suspect that the original print was probably only so-so to begin with. Most shots are in bright daylight or well-lit rooms, so hues are most often brilliant, which is what largely matters in these things.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio reproduces big, loud, sometimes deep musical passages clearly and robustly. Of course, if you don't care for most of the mediocre rap and rock music on the soundtrack, you'll just find yourself turning down the volume. A sometimes booming bass and a few bizarre sonic effects in the rear speakers make the only lasting impressions, and those impressions disappear from memory in a moment. At least they spice things up a little bit, which is more than the actors are able to accomplish with the script.
There are three main extras on the disc: About eleven minutes of additional scenes, including a new, alternative ending; a twenty-one-minute extended promo, "The Making of Love Don't Cost a Thing," with comments from the director and actors; and two music videos, "Shorty (Put it on the Floor)" with Busta Rhymes, Chingy, Fat Joe, and actor Nick Cannon and "Luv Me Baby" with Murphy Lee. Beyond that, there are twenty-eight scene selections; a widescreen theatrical trailer; spoken languages in English and French; and subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
I can't for the life of me understand why writer Michael Swerdlick thought that an updating of his earlier teen flick would be any more appealing this second time around if he added nothing of value to it. Nor can I understand how a movie studio could get conned into making such a film. Maybe it was the thought of Nick Cannon in the starring role that sold the idea; I don't know. But at least with "Drumline," Cannon was performing in something that had a modicum of purpose and meaning. "Love Don't Cost a Thing" is simply drivel.