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Love Don’t Cost a Thing

Movie review by Greg Carlson

During the opening credits of “Love Don’t Cost a Thing,” a title appears indicating that the film is based on a screenplay by Michael Swerdlick.  The earlier movie, known to a generation of cable and home video rental fans, is “Can’t Buy Me Love,” starring Patrick Dempsey and Amanda Peterson.  Neither film is really any good, and one begins to wonder almost immediately whether going to the trouble of a remake was ever a wise idea.  While “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” purports to address the perennial issues of high school popularity, friendship, and the importance of being a good person, the movie is lifeless and shallow from start to finish.

Nick Cannon plays geeky Alvin Johnson, an engineering wizard who divides his time between cleaning pools for cash and designing car engines for a GM-sponsored national scholarship competition.  Sporting an anachronistic (and hopeless) sense of style, Alvin vents his frustrations about being unpopular to his fellow nerds – a trio of walking stereotypes whose dialogue wouldn’t convince a kindergartner.  Alvin also worships cheerleader Paris Morgan (Christina Milian) – the most popular girl in the school – from afar, but to her, he’s vapor.

Alvin’s big chance arrives in the shape of a dented SUV fender when Paris accidentally dings up her mother’s wheels and needs someone to help her with a quick fix.  Unwisely, it would seem, Alvin offers to repair the auto himself.  In exchange, he gives Paris $1,500 and essentially blackmails her into pretending the couple is an item.  A woman of her word, Paris agrees, and shockwaves ripple through the cafeteria as Alvin is transformed into one of the beautiful people.  Of course, things are not quite what they seem: Paris is not a cruel snob, and begins to genuinely fall for Alvin (even though he is too naïve, or stupid, to realize it).

Sadly, the movie turns Alvin into a clueless jerk the second he trades in his thrift store apparel for Sean John.  He mistreats his friends, he misreads Paris, and he makes a genuine ass of himself at home and at school.  Lightweight, formulaic teen fare like this demands that lessons be learned, but Alvin is so clueless, rude, and repugnant, his comeuppance and turnaround are a classic case of too little, too late.  Additionally, Troy Beyer’s direction is stilted and ill-paced – the reasonably brief running time feels like double its actual length.

Worst of all, “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” is unfunny.  Steve Harvey, playing Alvin’s perpetually horny father, generates only a few tepid laughs in a handful of clumsy, labored scenes in which he teaches his son about the importance of condom use.  Alvin’s dad, vicariously reliving his own teen years through Alvin, dances around to Al Green on 8-Track whenever he is not pumping his son for information about Alvin’s sexual experiences.  Only Christina Milian, with charm to spare, manages to rise above the wretched premise.  It’s too bad that the movie didn’t spend more time with her character and less time with Nick Cannon’s buffoonish Alvin.

This review was originally published in the High Plains Reader the week of 12/15/03. 

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