[Screen It]

(2000) (Freddie Prinze Jr., Julia Stiles) (PG-13)

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Romantic Drama: A college couple tries to come to grips with the fact that the sparkle of their romance is beginning to fade.
As told in flashback by the participants themselves, Al (FREDDIE PRINZE, JR.) and Imogen (JULIA STILES) are young lovers for whom sparks immediately fly upon their first meeting when he's a sophomore and she a freshman at a New York college.

As their relationship intensifies, they must contend with the reactions of their friends to their romance, including that of Eddie (SHAWN HATOSY), Al's insecure roommate who'd like a girlfriend like Imogen, and Monk (ZAK ORTH), an underground porn actor and director, whose industry friend, Cyrus (SELMA BLAIR), finds herself attracted to Al.

Then there's Al's dad, Chef Ray (HENRY WINKLER), who likes Imogen but wants Al to join him in a father/son cooking show, as well as Imogen's friend, Lana (ROSARIO DAWSON) who has a brief fling with Eddie, and Jim Morrison (ASHTON KUTCHER), who looks like the former leader of The Doors and has a thing for Imogen.

With time passing and the sparks of their early romantic relationship eventually being replaced by a comfortable, but not particularly exciting steady relationship, Al and Imogen must contend with trying to adapt to their evolving and somewhat stagnating relationship.

OUR TAKE: 2.5 out of 10
Love, that wonderfully strange emotion that grips everyone in different ways, has elicited various reactions from performers who've tried to capture its varying qualities in song. Donny Osmond sang about "Puppy Love," while conversely the J. Geils band exclaimed that "Love Stinks." The Captain and Tennille thought that "Love Will Keep us Together," David Cassidy sang "I Think I Love You," and Percy Sledge went on about "When a Man Loves a Woman."

Yet, it's extremely doubtful that any but the most indiscriminating teens or romantics at heart will be singing any praises for the latest love-related movie, "Down To You." A listless and sporadic look at a college-aged romance that loses its "tingle," this is one of those films that's instantly forgettable and usually ends up making a quick beeline to the video stores.

As flat and stale as a week-old can of soda that's been left sitting out on the counter, the film comes off as an uninspired, twenty-something version of "When Harry Met Sally" and/or "The Story of Us." First time writer and director Kris Isacsson seems to think that having our two love-crossed protagonists directly addressing the camera in person or via voice over narration is both a novel and interesting technique, but unfortunately for him, his film, and the audience, neither is true.

That's because the element had been done better before and the characters here have nothing particularly insightful, amusing or intriguing to say about their romance. Instead, their observations serve only to deliver exposition and fill in other blanks found throughout the story. While other films can get away with voice over narration with the same purpose - such as this week's "Angela's Ashes" - here it's just lazy filmmaking since this story clearly isn't complex enough to need such "help."

In fact, the straightforward trajectory that the plot follows is one of the film's weaker elements. As the young lovers proceed from infatuation and exciting love to boredom and then fighting, nothing particularly captivating ever pops up. That, coupled with boring dialogue, uninspired performances and few, if any, surprises, results in a boring and noticeably flat production.

The only moments when Isacsson shows any real flair - such as when each protagonist briefly interacts with the childhood version of their lover in a flashback as well as a "Cops" parody where home raiding police are replaced by home raiding chefs in a TV reality show called "Cooks" - are unfortunately too few and far between and aren't as funny or clever as they could and should have been.

The one thing - actually two - that the film has going for it is Freddie Prinze, Jr. ("She's All That," "I Know What You Did Last Summer") and Julia Stiles ("Ten Things I Hate About You," "The Devil's Own"). Combined, the young, attractive and charisma-oozing leads make the film at least a bit easier to watch and the chemistry between them feels believable enough so as not to feel too forced. Unfortunately, the characters they embody are boring college kids who mouth flat dialogue and are surrounded by lackluster plot development.

When they eventually encounter romantic strife, the film becomes something of a younger version of "The Story of Us," but without the witty dialogue or similar attempts to that film's two protagonists of making things work out. It gets even worse here when the couple finally breaks up (no big shock for anyone who's seen any film from this genre).

That's because Stiles' character disappears, leaving Prinze with nothing to do but sit around and mope. While both conditions may be true to life, they don't make for particularly exciting cinema. The ending caps off the banality by bringing the characters back together in a fashion that only exists in the movies. While that's occasionally an okay thing - especially in a fairy tale type story - it feels incredibly forced and too unbelievable here.

The performers inhabiting the supporting characters fare even worse. Selma Blair ("Cruel Intentions") plays an MIT dropout turned porn star (an incredibly believable combination), while Shawn Hatosy ("Outside Providence," "In & Out") is uncharacteristically flat despite Isacsson's attempt at making him a flamboyant character. The same holds true for Zak Orth ("Snow Falling on Cedars," "The Pallbearer") who plays a character who progressively and oddly becomes ever more like Orson Welles (but unfortunately in a mostly humorless way), while Henry Winkler ("The Waterboy," TV's "Happy Days") can't do much with his TV chef character.

Had it offered some fresh insight into the young love genre, the film might have been more intriguing, but as it stands, it's not particularly interesting and is too listless for its own good. Near the beginning, Prinze's character comments that love will make people do some really crazy things, but unfortunately, little if anything related to that ever occurs. While the film's target audience of teen girls might find something appealing here, it's doubtful most anyone else will. As such, we give "Down to You" a 2.5 out of 10.

Reviewed January 21, 2000 / Posted January 21, 2000

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