Teenage guys beware: if you plan on taking your girlfriend to the movies to see the Gen-Y weeper “A Walk to Remember” in some not-so-subtle attempt to prove your sensitive side, I have three words: DON’T DO IT! Whatever temporary benefits you may earn aren’t worth having her incessantly harrass you after the movie with the question, “Why can’t you be more like Shane West?” It’s a query that’ll be on the lips of attached young females everywhere after witnessing his character’s impossibly sensitive displays, which will send the Bop and Tiger Beat audience into a swoony tizzy. Everyone else, however, will be longing to guzzle a bottle of Pepto-Bismol after being subjected to the 90-minute sap- and crap-fest that is “A Walk to Remember.”
West’s Landon Carter isn’t so in touch with his feminine side at the beginning of the film, however. He’s the town bad boy, so dangerous yet so cool that he coaxes a friend from taking a leap off of a tower into some shallow water–splat! The friend doesn’t die but is severely injured, which plants the seeds of change within Landon that come to full blossom when he spends more time with dowdy school wallflower Jamie Sullivan (Mandy Moore, #3 on the Female Teen Pop hierearchy). Landon is forced to take the lead in the school musical production, and he turns to Jamie, the production’s leading lady, for help with his lines. She agrees, but on one condition: “Don’t fall in love with me.” For a no-bones-about-it Plain Jane, Jamie sure has an inflated opinion of herself.
Of course Landon can’t help but succumb to Jamie’s modest, wholesome, non-conformist charms, and the knockout punch comes on opening night of the show. In a Ewan McGregor-in-“Moulin Rouge!”-esque moment, a glammed-up Jamie launches into her character’s big, soul-baring ballad, and suddenly Landon (and the crowd) is completely smitten. Given that singing is about the only thing Moore does well in the film, the idea behind the scene isn’t completely preposterous, but the execution is. Notice I said “singing” as opposed to “lip synching,” for the dubbing is about as bad as it was in “Glitter.” The use of a prerecorded track is even more ridiculous here, for a piano is the only source of musical accompaniment for the play; since the film itself is not a musical, it’s all the more baffling when a string section and other lush production touches start creeping in. Worse still is that this pivotal moment makes no sense; after all, Landon had to have heard her sing this song countless times during rehearsals–which would then mean that he falls for her simply because she’s all dressed and made up, going against the whole idea of falling for a Plain Jane’s inner beauty.
But I’m obviously applying way too much thought on a film that clearly wasn’t thought out, certainly not by director Adam Shankman and scripter Karen Janszen, working from Nicholas Sparks’ novel; “When in doubt, resort to a cliché or stereotype” seems to be their philosophy. Landon is “down” with a token hip-hop-bumping black friend who quite insultingly speaks in jive and does elaborate soul handshakes with his whitebread homey. Jamie is the daughter of the town preacher (Peter Coyote), who predictably objects to his daughter’s budding romance and spouts boilerplate dialogue about God and morality.
Thanks to Landon’s newly gallant ways, Jamie’s dad eventually comes around, and she and Landon do enjoy a stretch of goo-goo-eyed bliss that makes one want to vomit; the “seductive” temporary tattoo-application scene will make one nostalgic for the “Massachusetts welcomes you” kissing scene in the similar (but superior–which, granted, is not saying much) teen love story of a couple years back, “Here on Earth.” Naturally it’s all the happy hand-holding and smooching is destined not to last, due to a “secret” third-act revelation not-so-gracefully foreshadowed by Jamie’s “Don’t fall in love with me” request. For one brief moment, though, it looks as if Shankman and Janszen would go for broke and take this dull story in a more out-there direction. In one scene, Jamie’s the victim of a prank (one that’s actually more stupid than cruel, but that’s another story), and Shankman intercuts slow motion shots of the cafeteria crowd laughing at her with close-ups of her upset face. One expects–nay, _hopes_–for Piper Laurie’s familar “They’re all gonna laugh at you” to loop on the soundtrack and for Jamie to unleash heretofore unseen telekinetic fury on her classmates–anything to enliven these lifeless proceedings. Alas, the terrible twosome at the helm of this cinematic Titanic hit the expected course-changing iceberg.
Thus begins a final act of soggy schmaltz that will test the most sentimental of viewers. Landon’s unnatural–hell, downright un_male_–sensitivity and keen romantic instincts reach ridiculous heights as the spirits of his beloved falter. The most gifted of young stars wouldn’t be able to completely salvage this unwatchable, unactable material, but at least they would make it go down a bit easier; needless to say, the chemistry-free West and Moore are not these stars. Smiling, pouting, and badly lip-synching appears to be Moore’s entire range; and West’s performance echoes Landon’s early line of “I didn’t plan on acting or anything.” Say what one will about the aforementioned “Here on Earth,” one must concede that its young stars have some acting ability. The older, more seasoned stars here fare no better, though. As Landon’s mother, anything Daryl Hannah does is rendered frightening by a dark, Lucy Lawless-ish wig. Given what he has to work with here, Coyote’s infamous gig as “The Voice of the Oscars” a couple of years ago is starting to look like a prime job; at the very least, however, he’s the only person in this South-set story to even try to do an appropriate accent.
None of this will matter to that target Cosmo Girl demographic, who will grin from ear to ear and cry their little mallrat eyes out seeing and hearing that dreamy hottie Shane West act out all their sappy, YM-fueled romantic ideals. Great for them, I say. But all the more pity for the rest of us who have to endure “A Walk to Remember,” a monstrosity of a movie that I am all too eager to forget.