Judge Neil Dorsett says that if this movie don't cost you a thing, and someone cooks you dinner for free or gives you a nice backrub during it, it might be worth your time.
The title says "Love don't cost a thing," but the movie says it costs $1,500. Is that a bait-and-switch of some kind?
Ah, remakes. Staple of the cinema, bane of the cinephile. A bane, even when the movie is good, because it often means that when speaking of the distinguished original one must take pains to point out that no, you don't mean the crappy remake! This will, in all likelihood, eventually reach a point of diminishing returns, where the frustration of having to do this over and over again eventually will overtake any positive impact you got from the remake in the first place (assuming there was any). But luckily, this only applies to those remakes recently dubbed "title-sploitation," where the primary reason for the movie's existence is to capitalize on that first weekend flush and the feeling of "This ain't your father's Stepford Wives." Pretty shallow, and often not remakes at all, outside of the titles. There is, however, another breed of remakes, one that has a slightly more noble air. Sure, usually this breed is made of fairly mediocre movies; the one at hand is not an exception. But at least this second type, the retitled and rearranged remake, is working on the basis that the story will have additional use in a different venue. It's not like creating a good new movie or story, but at least it's about selling the steak. 2003's Love Don't Cost a Thing is such a remake, recasting the lukewarm '80s comedy Can't Buy Me Love for the hip-hop market, and it gets reasonable service from its previously owned premise but never really makes a splash.
Nick Cannon plays Alvin Johnson, a high school senior who's on the fast track to success as a designer of automobiles, but is low in social standing, a "dork." He's been financing his creation, an engine sure to land him a big job, by cleaning pools. Those pools happen to include that of the school's beautiful cheerleading queen, Paris Morgan (Christina Milian, who probably has a future in movies). Paris is warm-hearted, but entirely out of Alvin's league. But when her mother goes out of town and orders Paris to absolutely not drive the family's expensive SUV, the natural thing happens and Paris is left standing short of the $1500 repair money—the exact price of the last piece of Alvin's exotic creation. Alvin, in a strange personal moment, decides that the money he'd intended to invest in his book-larnin' future should take a back seat to a few final weeks of high school glory. He hatches a scheme to pay Paris as a phony girlfriend for a month to increase his popularity, and after some haggling down, the two weeks of pantomime begin. Who can doubt that assorted wackiness and life learning will follow?
This movie is put together competently, but it never develops much verve. A problem with it is that the laugh pauses are quite long, which is fine for a crowded theater but can make a movie seem quite dull in the home. On the other hand, the basic plot structure is sound and the script is adequate. The performances are pretty average, with Milian outdoing Cannon by a stretch and the rest of the cast, which includes Steve Harvey (Original Kings of Comedy) and Kenan Thompson, lately of Saturday Night Live (is it still okay to call it by the long name or is "SNL" a trademarked new phrase?), in comedy relief roles as Alvin's father and goofy overweight friend, respectively. Harvey is saddled with a lot of condom humor. The background is stocked with bikini girls, which are always good for a teen comedy. But no one, including the director, ever breaks out of the by-the-numbers aspect of the whole enterprise. Love Don't Cost a Thing probably don't cost too much as a cable sale, and it surely deserves that. But not too much more than that. Between its crowd-pleaser engineering (now stuck without a crowd) and its general lackadaisical nature, this movie can be safely overlooked.
The picture and sound are both fine; pretty much what one would expect of a modern studio movie on DVD. The 1.85:1 picture is anamorphically enhanced, colorful, and bright. Some scenes in the film, particularly early ones, are rather soft, presumably from the original film. The sound is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that is a little heavy on the background music, especially those scenes in which the music and dialogue occur simultaneously. This would contribute to the party atmosphere in a theater crowd, if the movie were turned up loud enough to make the dialogue clear, but in the home it's just distracting. Since Cannon's speech lacks clarity and punch and he carries most of the dialogue, this is a problem. The film could have benefited from a new mix; as it is, it's necessary to boost the center channel unless you're planning on shaking your windows with the bass of the music. As extras go, a theatrical trailer starts off the package, and a (not-too-exciting) behind the scenes featurette is included. A deleted scene from the ending shows Paris realizing her artistic ambitions, and there's a few other deleted scenes. Two music videos are along for the ride: one semi-improvised jam with the film's soundtrack composers and Cannon, and one called "Love Me Baby" by Murphy Lee. These are basic hip-hop videos, very standard stuff. Also "included" are two promotional trailers which play automatically, which is annoying as always.
Love Don't Cost a Thing shows off a fair degree of potential on the part of those involved and makes a good attempt at a traditional wholesome teen comedy, but is too green and slow to really be recommendable. This is the kind of movie that you watch either on cable at the age of thirteen on a slow Saturday afternoon in bad weather, or on its opening night in a packed theater that wants to laugh; and either way, when it's over you don't really remember watching it. It's not lousy or incompetent, and neither is it good or memorable in any particular way. Like a lot of movies. Another one for the pile.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Behind the Scenes reel
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