'Love' not worth the cost of a ticket

The Associated PressDecember 18, 2003 

Christina Milian and Nick Cannon, on the road to nowhere.

"Love Don't Cost a Thing" shares its title with the name of a Jennifer Lopez song -- which is not part of the soundtrack. In fact, Lopez is nowhere to be found here, but her ex-boyfriend, Sean Combs, is, in various manifestations.

The movie almost plays like an extended infomercial for all things Puffy.

The high school kids in the movie either wear or covet his clothing line, Sean John. And when nerdy Alvin (Nick Cannon) undergoes a makeover and becomes popular -- thanks to cheerleader Paris (Christina Milian), whom he's paid to be his girlfriend for two weeks -- the fact that he's wearing a Sean John sweatshirt gives him added cachet.

Puffy's song with Busta Rhymes and Pharrell Williams, "Pass the Courvoisier," plays a during senior ditch day party at the beach. And one of Paris' stuck-up cheerleader friends, Zoe (Melissa Schuman), was a member of Dream, Puffy's all-girl pop group.

While all this is conspicuous and shameless, it's the least of the movie's problems.

"Love Don't Cost a Thing" is a remake of the 1987 teen comedy "Can't Buy Me Love," which starred a then-unknown Patrick Dempsey as the nerd and Amanda Peterson as the most popular girl in school.

Now really, of all the teen comedies released during the 1980s, was "Can't Buy Me Love" begging to be remade? It's not like we're talking about "Sixteen Candles" or "The Breakfast Club" or even "Better Off Dead."

(On second thought, scratch that. The very idea of remaking any of those movies would retroactively taint my teen years.)

But director Troy Beyer remains faithful to the original film with help from "Can't Buy Me Love" writer Michael Swerdlick, with whom she co-wrote the script. They haven't breathed much new life into the movie; the cast is now predominantly black instead of white, and the setting has moved to urban Los Angeles from suburban Arizona.

Alvin buys his way into popularity to help Paris pay off a $1,500 debt and abandons his old friends in the process. By looking and acting like the fickle, superficial cool kids, he's instantly accepted, which goes to his head. Soon he thinks he's too good for Paris and rejects her, too. But eventually he gets his comeuppance, regains his humility, and he and Paris end up happily ever after.

(That's not exactly spoiling the ending; Beyer, who was a "Sesame Street" cast member as a girl, follows the formula of this kind of movie precisely.)

Cannon (who's also a rapper) and Milian (who's also an R&B singer-songwriter) are good-looking and likable, but the tired material doesn't give them much chance to create sparks.

It's also hard to accept Cannon, star of last year's surprise hit "Drumline," as a social misfit. Despite the messy 'fro and the lame wardrobe that mark his early appearance, he's simply too charismatic.

But in this time of heady Oscar-bait fare, "Love Don't Cost a Thing" is one of the few movies aimed squarely at teens. One can only imagine what will come out this time next year -- perhaps a remake of "License to Drive," starring the Olsen twins and Lil' Romeo.

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