A Walk to Remember

Ever since Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet it’s been somewhat of a maxim that mismatched couples are eventually doomed, romantically if not otherwise. That the basic formula is still around several hundred years later is proof of its resonance with audiences. The latest cinema iteration of "Opposites attract, but not permanently" is A Walk to Remember, and it’s hard to imagine a film more predictable or more cliched. It weakly limps through all the expected motions while adding nothing to distinguish itself.

In adapting Nicholas Sparks’ novel to the screen, director Adam Shankman and screenwriter Karen Janzsen have retained the bare facts but removed whatever charm may have originally existed. Shankman (The Wedding Planner) has spent most of his career as a choreographer of films that would hardly appear to need them (Mission to Mars, The Flintstones). Here he seems content to follow the Arthur Murray pattern left by the many films that have trod a similar path without contributing any original steps of his own.

The main ingredients are all too familiar. Jamie’s a plain, social outcast good girl (teen songstress Mandy Moore), under the suffocating care of an overbearing single father (Peter Coyote) who also happens to be the town preacher. Landon (Shane West – Eli Sammler on TV’s Once and Again) is a popular bad boy who gets caught after a late-night prank that injures another student. He’s "sentenced" to tutor the underprivileged and act in the senior class play, events in which Jamie also participates. Any doubt that the star-crossed two will get together vanishes when he asks her for help learning his lines and she replies, "You have to promise that you won’t fall in love with me." Landon’s estranged father pops in sporadically, seemingly only to exist so that he can show up as a Deux ex Dad late in the film. But everything else in the story is easy to anticipate, the only surprises are how quickly and unoriginally the banalities mount.

The production is a mess. Shankman and Janzen have moved Sparks’ story from 1958 to the mid-1990s, but apparently neglected to tell the production designer or costumer. Except for the cars, Beaufort, NC looks much like the 1950s and everyone somehow dresses like it’s 1972. The high school students all appear to be in their mid-20s and speak some strange dialect that adults must guess that teens use but has never been detected in nature. Scenes don’t end, they’re abandoned – most of them lurching suddenly to black as if someone had doused the studio lighting. And there’s a mishmash of pop songs pasted in occasionally. The only apparent purpose for their presence is inclusion on the soundtrack CD since they add nothing to the scenes where they’re used.

The acting isn’t much better. West has only two expressions: furrowed brow of concern/puzzlement and leering grin. Mandy Moore follows Mariah Carey’s example as the latest proof of why most singers should stay in the recording studio–her performance is remarkably vapid. Coyote isn’t given any decent scenes to work with, and a black-bewigged Daryl Hannah is around only to mouth platitudes as Landon’s Mom.

– Bob Aulert