[Screen It]


(2000) (Shane West, Marla Sokoloff) (PG-13)

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Comedy: Two high school seniors conspire to help each other win the girl of their dreams.
It's a month before the prom at Gilmore High and senior Ryan Woodman (SHANE WEST) doesn't have a date, but still maintains his longtime crush on Ashley Grant (JODI LYN O'KEEFE), the prettiest and most popular girl in school. The problem is, Ashley doesn't even know who Ryan is, particularly since he hangs around with Floyd (AARON PAUL), Cosmo (COLIN HANKS) and Dunleavy (MANU INTIRAYMI) who collectively epitomize the notion of "geekdom."

Ryan's best friend, however, is Maggie (MARLA SOKOLOFF), the girl next door who, despite possessing both beauty and brains, doesn't have a date to the prom either. A solution presents itself when Ashley's cousin, Chris (JAMES FRANCO), proposes a partnership of sorts with Ryan. It seems that despite Chris' popularity at Gilmore, he can't get Maggie interested in him. Thus, he tells Ryan that he'll help him get a date with Ashley if he helps him with Maggie.

With desperation winning out over reluctant better sense, Ryan agrees to the plan. As such, Ryan informs Chris of Maggie's favorite things and even feeds him poetic lines to impress her, while Chris tells Ryan that the best way to get Ashley's attention is to be a jerk to her. Although their dual plans begin to work and the young women begin to fall for the anxious young men, Ryan eventually discovers that Chris' intentions aren't honorable, that he can't live his life acting like someone he's not, and that he's actually interested in Maggie himself.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Since most of today's moviegoers have graduated from or are currently attending high school, most everyone can relate to films set in that locale and/or time of life. Of course, that doesn't necessarily mean that those viewers will automatically enjoy whatever's presented to them, particularly when the offerings are of the sophomoric variety (pun intended).

Nonetheless, it's not that difficult for most everyone to identify with - or just identify - the various "archetypes" of high school students including those falling into the popular cliques and the rest who do not. Many will also remember, or currently be experiencing the feelings of not being attractive or possessing some physical attribute that embarrasses them and is used as an excuse for not having a boyfriend or girlfriend. As such, it's somewhat surprising that the old Cyrano de Bergerac plot hasn't been used more often in teen-based films.

For those not familiar with the work, it's the late 19th century story penned by Edmond Rostand about a witty, but large-nosed man who helps a handsome, but shy man woo a beautiful woman. Of course, all the while the first man is really the one in love with her but believes that his beak stands in the way. It's probably best known for the scene where Cyrano feeds lines to that other man who then repeats them to the woman, thus winning her over, much to Cyrano's dismay.

Although the story has been filmed a few times (including the 1950 version with José Ferrer and the 1990 version with Gérard Depardieu), probably the most enjoyable spin on the story occurred in "Roxanne," the 1987 film starring Steve Martin as a large-nosed fireman and Daryl Hannah as the title character and object of his hidden affection.

What with the braces, zits, and all of the other awkward changes puberty brings on in the adolescent body, the Cyrano story seems like a perfect fit for films featuring teens. Now, some thirteen years after Martin and director Fred Schepisi created that wonderful little picture based on Rostand's work, "Whatever It Takes" comes along and borrows some of the gist of the plot, but little else.

An occasionally amusing but otherwise unimaginative teen-based comedy, the film offers far more stereotypical high school students and related "humor" than decent laughs and/or anything particularly clever or special with the Cyrano material.

While there are several instances of one character putting words into another's mouth to impress the young lass, such scenes aren't delivered in much of a clever or funny way as one would expect. Nor is the physical side (the big nose) of the story utilized, which is a shame since that's part of what made "Roxanne" so much fun and gave it a heart even larger than Martin's prosthetic snout.

Instead, director David Raynr ("Trippin'") and screenwriter Mark Schwahn ("35 Miles From Normal") have made sure to dredge up most every stupid high school film stereotype along with the now obligatory scatological material (vomit and bathroom jokes) and teenage sexual antics. While that sort of material can work if handled just right or with any semblance of originality, here it comes off as just the same old, same old.

While it's possible that less discerning or critical viewers and/or some high school students might enjoy the proceedings to some degree, there's just nothing here to help the film stand out from the countless other inane and mediocre, teen-based films that have tortured moviegoers over the past several years.

To make matters worse, but pretty much being par for the course, the film is completely predictable from start to finish. Unless you're completely unfamiliar with the original Cyrano story or are a cinematic novice, it's certainly not difficult to ascertain how the plot will develop, unfold and ultimately be resolved over the course of the film.

The performances are also par for the course, with Shane West ("Liberty Heights," TV's "Once and Again") and Marla Sokoloff ("The Babysitters Club," TV's "The Practice") playing the "normal" high school students who stereotypically don't realize they're the right ones for each other (despite it being obvious to everyone else and the audience), while Jodi Lyn O'Keefe ("She's All That," "Halloween: H20") and James Franco ("Never Been Kissed," TV's "Freaks and Geeks") inhabit the usual snobbish popular girl and stud jock respectively. Aaron Paul (from various TV shows) is present as "comic" relief, while the only other performer of note is Colin Hanks, and that's just for being the son of his famous father, Tom.

In conclusion and due to the weak and vastly underused Cyrano-based plot, this film isn't much different than any of the number of other teen-based comedies that have come down the pike over the past several years. Although it offers an occasional laugh here or there, there's just not much here worthy of earning anything resembling a recommendation. As such, "Whatever It Takes" doesn't live up to its descriptive title of making the effort to succeed, and thus rates as just a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed March 21, 2000 / Posted March 24, 2000

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