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Dustin Putman

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Love Don't Cost A Thing (2003)

Directed by Troy Beyer
Cast: Nick Cannon, Christina Milian, Steve Harvey, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Kenan Thompson, Kal Penn, Kevin Christy, Ashley Monique Clark, Nichole Robinson, Melissa Schuman, Sam Sarpong, Al Thompson, Elimu Nelson
2003 – 100 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for sexual content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 13, 2003.

An urban remake of the cheesy but fun 1987 teen comedy, "Can't Buy Me Love," "Love Don't Cost a Thing" lifts that film's premise and generously sprinkles in similar scenes and dialogue exchanges. What it doesn't do is improve in any way on a motion picture that, let's face it, wasn't that great to begin with. In comparison to the mean-spirited, tasteless, stereotypical treatment director Troy Beyer and co-writer Michael Swerdlick (who also penned the 1987 version) have done to the material, however, "Can't Buy Me Love" is a veritable masterpiece. Yes, "Love Don't Cost a Thing" is that bad.

High school senior Alvin Johnson (Nick Cannon) has always been considered a geek by the popular crowd, something he hopes to eradicate when he offers beautiful classmate Paris (Christina Milian) the money needed to fix her mom's wrecked car (she was driving it without permission). In return, Paris will hang out with Alvin for two weeks and help to raise his cool status. Just as Paris has begun to fall for Alvin, popularity changes his nice guy personality for the worst, leaving her and his real friends, Kenneth (Kenan Thompson), Walter (Kal Penn), and Chuck (Kevin Christy), out in the cold.

"Love Don't Cost a Thing" may outwardly seem like a harmless, fluffy teen flick, but it is rotten to the core and misogynistic in the extreme. All of the female characters are presented as one-dimensional twits who delight in letting their player boyfriends use and then promptly dispose of them. The rest of the teenage characters are just as poorly realized and condescending. This might not have been so off-putting in the long run had the central relationship between Alvin and Paris been the least bit endearing or fiery, but it isn't. After all, most of the teenagers in "Can't Buy Me Love" were also stereotypes, but at its center was the believable and sweet love story between Patrick Dempsey and Amanda Peterson. They portrayed roles that did have more than one dimension, who had real interests and ideas, and who made a natural connection with one another. The moral of the story—to be yourself—might have been handled in a syrupy fashion, but at least it had its heart in the right place. "Love Don't Cost a Thing" seemingly wants to do the same thing, but its handling of this subject holds the sincerity of a rabid dog.

Nick Cannon (2002's "Drumline") and Christina Milian (1999's "The Wood") seem to have the capacity for better performances in the future, but their parts of Alvin and Paris do them zero favors. For a movie's lead protagonist, Alvin is a despicable hero, and even when he realizes the mistakes he has made, he doesn't seem genuine when he corrects them. Paris, meanwhile, rolls her eyes so much at Alvin in the first act that when she does a 180-degree turn and has supposedly fallen for him, it seems like nothing more than a cheap necessity of the plot. Cannon and Milian are given so few scenes to develop their relationship at the onset that what comes afterward collapses in a pile of dust. And because Cannon's Alvin is so unlikable, we actually find ourselves rooting for Paris to ditch him for good and find someone more respectful. The only actor to escape unscathed in the wreckage is Steve Harvey (2003's "The Fighting Temptations"), bringing heart and a couple of laughs to his role of Alvin's father. His sporadic scenes are the sole bright spot in 100 minutes of worthlessness.

I defy anyone to watch "Can't Buy Me Love" and "Love Don't Cost a Thing" back to back and tell me with a clear, honest conscience that this updated version is an improvement. Every scene lifted from "Can't Buy Me Love" is markedly inferior here—less earnest and constantly reaching for the lowest common denominator. The dialogue is also laughably idiotic. "You're off the hizzle," one character says, only for another to ask Alvin, "What kind of car do you drizzle?" Yep, that's about the height of intelligence that this movie manages to ever reach. Even the final repugnant shot suggests that Alvin still hasn't actually grown as a person, making the entire thing pointless. If remaking popular '80s teen films for urban audiences is to become a new fad, let's hope further efforts aren't as irresponsible as "Love Don't Cost a Thing."
© 2003 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman