Stuffed with attitude but just as hackneyed as the original, “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” brings a year of exceptionally lame youth comedies to a fitting conclusion. The nifty earnings scored by 1987’s “Can’t Buy Me Love” is the only credible reason for doing a remake so soon of this tale of a high school nerd “renting” a popular girl so he can cozy up to the cool kids. Though new pic’s youth world is far more textured than the lily white suburbs of “Can’t,” “Love” won’t score latter’s kind of B.O. returns but will find a ready target aud looking for a date movie.
Alvin Johnson (Nick Cannon) looks like a goofball at first glance, swaying in his quasi-hip-hop way while earning dollars cleaning neighborhood pools. Blame that impression on the filmmakers’ desire for a musically trendy opening, because underneath, Alvin is really a sober-minded young man, intent on getting an engineering scholarship and respected by his fellow auto shop geeks as an ace under the hood.
But just as Michael Swerdlick’s script for “Can’t Buy Me Love” didn’t persuade viewers that such a guy would suddenly want to dump his old pals and hang with the popular jocks and cheerleaders, director Troy Beyer’s scenario (with Swerdlick credited as co-writer) doesn’t convince auds that Alvin would want to do such a 180 in his life either. During a ludicrous sequence in which he insists on cleaning a pool during a pool party, Alvin eyes lovely cheerleader Paris Morgan (Christina Milian), and he’s never the same again.
Instead of praising his son for saving $1,500, Alvin’s dad Clarence (Steve Harvey) worries that his boy is a tad short in the love department, which encourages Alvin to make his move on Paris. After Paris crashes her mom’s SUV while she talks on her cell to her new NBA star b.f., Alvin comes to her rescue and repairs the vehicle. In exchange, Paris agrees to pretend to be his gal for two weeks.
On the surface, pic is just a routine spoof of youths in hormonal meltdown and pressurized every second to fit into one clique or another. Beyer — best remembered for her Sundance hit “Let’s Talk About Sex” — has an unsure sense of satire. Rather than making fun of adolescents’ obsession with Sean John-labeled hip-hop finery, pic’s a running product placement for the popular line of clothes.
More intriguing, though, is the prickly interaction between barely middle-class blacks like Alvin and the ultra-upscale blacks like Paris. This kind of co-mingling is rare in American movies, as is the depiction of a casually integrated Los Angeles student body that is past racial issues. This interaction certainly contains more appeal and social meaning than the obligatory heartfelt messages of “be yourself” that every major character (even the suddenly proper Clarence) opines.
To an unusual degree for a remake, whole chunks of dialogue and scenes are freighted from the original pic into the new one, with some tweaks and gags added, and Harvey’s dad character refashioned with the comedian in mind. What updated dialogue there is tends to be saturated in a mild version of hip-hop speak, along with the occasional howler such as Paris’ gal pals assuring her that she’ll “be the wife of an NBA star — life doesn’t get better than that!”
Not unlike Alvin himself, Cannon is at his best playing naturally, and his calm, cool and serious air suggests interesting things to come for this young actor. When he’s made to play the clown, it feels uncomfortable, especially when he shares the screen with full-time clowns like Harvey and Kenan Thompson (as one of Alvin’s auto shop buddies). Milian reveals a genial sweetness under her primped and styled exterior, a presence that gives this love story at least an ounce of credibility.
Original’s bland look is replayed here, which doesn’t feel apropos to the hipper set of characters. A vague sense of Los Angeles comes through, with the inner city studiously avoided in preference for trendy Valley, Baldwin Hills and beach spots. No fewer than 27 songs dominate the soundtrack.