There is nothing particularly inventive about “Down to You,” but the latest addition to the teen-pic boom has all the elements in place to please its target demo and leave most everyone else underwhelmed. This light romantic comedy has youth-market marquee stars in Freddie Prinze Jr. (“She’s All That”) and Julia Stiles (“10 Things I Hate About You”), the requisite obsession with sex and an all-too-predictable plot not afraid of flaunting its soap-opera roots. Prinze and Stiles have genuine screen charisma to spare, and there’s something oddly appealing about this mushy romantic tale, but first-time feature writer-director Kris Isacsson doesn’t have the skills to raise it far above its formulaic foundation. Pic will almost certainly score hot initial B.O., especially given the light competition in the time frame, and it will play particularly strongly with young females.
“own to You” is clearly a direct descendant of “She’s All That,” Prinze’s previous high school hit, but this time around the romance is emphasized over the goofy campus comedy. It’s love at first sight for New York City college kids Al (Prinze) and Imogen (Stiles), who first hook up via chitchat at the jukebox in the local watering hole. Al, an aspiring chef, and Imogen, a freshman with a deft hand with a paint brush, soon start dating, and, following the usual romantic dinners and moonlit kisses in the park, things start to get serious.
Their quirky friends and room-mates provide the necessary dramatic tension, ensuring that the central relationship has a few rocky twists to keep viewers interested. There’s Al’s pal Monk (Zak Orth), who just happens to be a budding porno actor and director, in what is easily the story’s silliest sidebar. His job gives the pic plenty of opportunity for oversexed frat-house quips, and provides the standard-issue temptress in porn star and sometime chemistry student Cyrus (Selma Blair). The sultry Cyrus spends most of her screen time unsuccessfully attempting to bed Al — or at least have him make her pancakes. The goofy cast of characters is rounded out by a young, long-haired fellow named Jim Morrison (Ashton Kutcher), who, naturally enough, is terminally obsessed with his rock-god namesake.
Al is also under pressure from his eccentric dad (Henry Winkler), who hosts a TV cooking show as “Chef Ray” and is desperate to have his son follow in his footsteps. One of the pic’s funniest sequences has Ray explaining his idea for a high-concept cooking show that would combine gritty “Cops”-like reality with gourmet fare.
It’s all reasonably pleasant to watch, but Isacsson doesn’t seem to know what to do with the story once Al and Imogen fall in love. All the usual obstacles to eternal happiness for college sweethearts appear, from pregnancy scares to silly domestic arguments, but it’s hard to become too concerned when it’s abundantly clear that these two will reconcile in the final reel. There are some funny moments along the way, and Isacsson livens up the proceedings by throwing in a number of arthouse frills, notably characters talking directly to the camera, split screens and fantasy sequences.
Prinze once again showcases his down-home charm and casual sex appeal in a role with more than a few echoes of his hot-guy-around-school in “She’s All That.” If anything, he’s even more of a sensitive soul in “Down to You,” and there are a few too many scenes where the filmmakers milk his doe-eyed stare for all its worth. Stiles also has major-league presence, and she brings welcome energy and spark to her portrayal of the conflicted Imogen. The supporting players don’t have opportunity to do much with their one-dimensional characters — with the exception of Winkler, who makes the most of his screen time.
Soundtrack is bursting with the requisite modern-rock tracks, and pic features a couple of sequences in which the main characters lip-synch to Al Green and Barry White chestnuts, scenes all too obviously torn from the pages of an old “Ally McBeal” script.