A teen fantasy about a romance between a bad boy with a good streak and a good girl with a bad streak, simpleminded, disposable "Three Steps Above Heaven" is too eager to please.

A teen fantasy about a romance between a bad boy with a good streak and a good girl with a bad streak, simple-minded, disposable “Three Steps Above Heaven” is too eager to please. Playing like a two-hour jeans commercial, the pic exists solely to sell itself to early teens seeking vicarious rebellion via a mixture of motorbikes, cheap emotion and costly marketing, but its manipulations may be too obvious even for its intended aud. First weekend B.O. at home on the back of a strong media campaign was excellent, leaving “Heaven” likely to open its gates in Iberophile territories.

Pic shifts the setup from Luca Lucini’s same-name 2004 movie(itself an adaptation of Federico Moccia’s cult novel) from Italy to Barcelona. Hache (Mario Casas) rides bikes, does lots of pull-ups and is emotionally damaged. Babi (Maria Valverde) is a wealthy but disobedient high schooler.

After an initial meeting at a set of traffic lights, they meet again at a party that quickly devolves into a riot after Hache starts a fight, which he does about every 10 minutes. No matter; the die is cast, and Hache is smitten. Babi is more hesitant, but succumbs under his relentless pressure.

Hache’s propensity for violence means constant brushes with the law. Slowly, he becomes more tender, Babi more rebellious. At first, modern lass Babi seems to have chosen him only as a means of losing her virginity, but the plot eventually regresses to a standard boy-meets-girl trajectory.

The reasons for Hache’s borderline psychopathy, shown in an inane flashback, are psychologically flimsy and have nothing to do with poverty or class. Screenwriter Ramon Salazar (also an accomplished helmer) has excised all references to unpleasant social realities from the pic’s earlier sources, so the only clue that Hache is an underdog is the fact that he doesn’t have a cell phone.

Casas, terrific recently in Paco Cabezas’ “Neon Flesh,” has a hunted, rebel look, hard muscles and the energy required for the part. Valverde, who’s shown real acting chops elsewhere, has little to do here but react to Hache’s excesses and parade about in product-placed underwear. Otherwise, there’s something for every kid to identify with or against in a cast that includes Hache’s fun-loving, goofy sidekick Pollo (Alvaro Cervantes), Babi’s excitable younger sis Dani (Nerea Camacho) and their uptight mother Rafaela (Cristina Plazas). The only real depth and gentleness in the pic comes from Jordi Bosch as Babi’s well-meaning father.

Pacing is fast, editing slick. The pic is very glossy indeed, taking staples like a couple on the beach at sundown or a thrilling bike race and stylizing them into total artificiality. This is recognizably contempo Spain, but even the city’s outskirts at night look unfailingly beautiful, especially in the rain. Pic does deliver some resonant standalone images, such as Hache striking fruitless blows at his bike.

Project’s canniness is shown by the marketing of its Spanish title as the easily textable “3MSC,” although the onscreen title is “Tres metros sobre el cielo.” Musically unimaginative soundtrack furthers the thought that there should be a ban on other films using Alphaville’s “Forever Young.”

Three Steps Above Heaven

Spain

Production

A Warner Bros. Pictures release of a Zeta Cinema, Antena 3, Cangrejo Films, Globomedia production in association with La Sexta, Canal Plus. (International Sales: Antena 3, Madrid.) Produced by Francisco Ramos, Mercedes Gamero, Daniel Ecija. Executive producer, Juan Moreno, Nicolas Garcia. Directed by Fernando Gonzalez Molina. Screenplay, Ramon Salazar, based on the novel by Federico Moccia.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Daniel Aranyo; editor, Irene Blecua, Veronica Callon; music: Manel Santisteban; art director, Patrick Salvador; sound (Dolby Digital), Albert Manera, Alvaro Lopez; costume designer, Loles Garcia. Reviewed at Cines Princesa, Madrid, Dec. 7, 2010. Running time: 118 MIN.

With

Mario Casas, Maria Valverde, Alvaro Cervantes, Marina Salas, Diego Martin, Nerea Camacho, Pablo Rivero, Cristina Plazas, Jordi Bosch.

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