Jan. 19, 2004 – "Love Don't Cost a Thing," a remake of the 1987 "Can't Buy Me Love," has done nothing if not gotten the critics' attention.
Although a conventional comedy about teen-age romance between the school nerd and the school beauty queen, the movie has spurred wildly varying opinions. Roger Ebert says he "despised the original" but finds the current rendition "sweet and kind of touching."
Not so fast, says Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe, who deems the new arrival "transparent as a work of opportunistic cultural politicking."
The big difference is that this version features a black cast, whereas the earlier one was white, which accounts for Morris's opinion, mostly. He argues that the "white, middle-class suburbia" of the 1987 film appealed to everyone — black, white, whatever — where the new one focuses mainly on the hip hop culture. (Actually, the hip hop culture, increasingly, is both black and white. It appears to this reviewer to be a matter of how much noise you can tolerate, as opposed to racial appeal.)
Anyhow, Alvin Johnson (Nick Cannon) is the "Don't Cost a Thing" nerd who one day sees his way to win popularity at school by dating Paris Morgan (Christina Milian). His approach is to fix up her mother's car — a Cadillac SUV — which Morgan has damaged and needs urgently repaired before Mom finds out. The auto shop where Johnson works can't make the emergency repair in time.
Cannon makes his proposition: to fix the car, buying the replacement parts with his own money, which he really needs for a science fair entry, provided that Milian arranges to be seen with him at lunch and between classes. And, there, you have your movie. Can the high school nerd win the heart of the high school beauty? Such are the truths and questions of teen agony.
For his new image, Johnson changes his look, too — to that of a rapper bedecked in jewelry and baggy pants. His parents don't recognize him, his old buddies won't speak to him, and his little sister thinks he may be on drugs. But, what bliss to strut around with Morgan on his arm!
While the plot may not offer many surprises, Margaret McGurk of the Cincinnati Enquirer says the acting does, commending director Troy Beyer's touch. "By eliciting fresh, winning performances from her talented young stars, she turns the film into an entertaining and light-hearted teen romance," McGurk writes.
"Love Don't Cost a Thing" is rated PG-13 for "sexual content/humor," whatever that combination is supposed to indicate. The movie runs 1:41 and starts Thursday at Sunny Isle Theaters.
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