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Dustin Putman

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Whatever It Takes (2000)
2 Stars

Directed by David Raynr
Cast: Shane West, Marla Sokoloff, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, James Franco, Aaron Paul, Colin Hanks, Manu Intiraymi, Julia Sweeney, Richard Schiff, Kip Pardue, Scott Vickaryous, Christine Lakin.
2000 – 92 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for profanity and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 25, 2000.

"Whatever It Takes" is the exact antithesis of "Here on Earth," this week's other teen-oriented movie. Whereas "Here on Earth" must be praised for its non-stereotypical view of teenage characters, "Whatever It Takes," directed by David Raynr, is a cliche-ridden high school comedy with few inventive ideas, but a fair amount of wit. Sort of a hybrid of "She's All That" and "Drive Me Crazy," and superior to the former, the film predictably follows two good-natured protagonists and their self-involved romantic counterparts, until the moment when...well...I think we both know how this one will end, folks. Because the ground rules for this genre have been so stringently laid out, its the "getting-there" that is more important than the actual payoff, and "Whatever It Takes," while certainly not one of the better teen comedies, is at least one of the more entertaining recent ones.

Ryan Woodman (Shane West) is an unpopular senior at Gilmore High School, with a long-time best friend and next-door neighbor in Maggie Carter (Marla Sokoloff), whose bedroom balconies conveniently face each other, so they can spend their free time talking between them. Maggie is seemingly nothing more than a sister to him, as he has eyes for the most popular (and superficial) girl in school, Ashley Grant (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe), even though she doesn't know he even exists. When jock Chris (James Franco) decides that he would like to have a chance with Maggie, he devises a plan with Ryan. Since Ashley is Chris' cousin, he will easily be able to get her to go out with Ryan, if Ryan helps him to win over Maggie. Pretty soon, it becomes apparent to Ryan that Ashley is nothing more than a shallow individual worried only about herself, and he slowly comes to the realization that his true feelings lie with Maggie. It sounds complicated, but it's really not; just another spin on the same old formula.

"Whatever It Takes," loosely based on "Cyrano de Bergerac," is a flawed movie in more ways than one, and it makes you long for the '80s John Hughes era, when teen movies like "Sixteen Candles," "Pretty in Pink," and "Some Kind of Wonderful" laid the groundwork for such '90s fare as this, but were done with a great deal more intelligence and overall heart. So why does "Whatever It Takes" fundamentally work? Easy. Going into a movie theater playing this film, you have it set in your mind exactly what is going to happen and how everything will be played out, and because it satisfies those expectations and doesn't resort to complete brainlessness, you come out happy. If you don't, then you really had no excuse for walking into the theater in the first place.

Shane West (TV's "Once and Again") and Marla Sokoloff (TV's "The Practice") are charming and likable as Ryan and Maggie. Their roles, like everyone else's, is a cliche, but they do their jobs professionally, and seem to be having fun in the process.

The standout in the cast, however, turns out to be Jodi Lyn O'Keefe (1998's "Halloween: H20"), who is basically playing the same stuck-up character that she did in 1999's "She's All That," but with a fresh spin. About as self-absorbed as a person can possibly be, O'Keefe's Ashley is won over by Ryan not by flattery, but by criticisms, as any negativity directed towards her attracts her attention, since she is such an obviously insecure and pathetic creature. It might have been nice had screenwriter Mark Schwahn attempted to tear down Ashley's thin facade and explore her as a real human being (as John Hughes did spectacularly with Lea Thompson's popular sexpot character in 1987's "Some Kind of Wonderful"), but at least she isn't purposefully cruel--only highly materialistic.

"Whatever It Takes" is light, fluffy, fast-paced, and through the sludge of overdone ideas are a couple original moments, particularly in the Prom finale, whose theme for the year is "Titanic Dreams." With the gymnasium set up to look like the Titanic, complete with fake icebergs and lifesavers, a plot development occurs that immediately turns the dance into a basic reenactment of the tragic sinking of the title ship. But who are we kidding? The movie is little more than a remake of countless other films, done occasionally better but often worse. The play's the thing, however, and "Whatever It Takes" is entertaining throughout the duration of its brisk 92 minutes.

©2000 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman