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"AQUAMARINE"
(2006) (Joanna Levesque, Emma Roberts) (PG)

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QUICK TAKE:
Romantic Comedy: Two girls try to get a lifeguard to fall in love with the mermaid they've just met, all in hopes that she'll grant a wish that will keep one of the girls from having to move to Australia.
PLOT:
Hailey (JOANNA 'JOJO' LEVESQUE) and Claire (EMMA ROBERTS) are two 13-year-old friends who like hanging out at the small town Florida beach club run by Claire's grandparents with whom she lives. While that occasionally involves getting spooked by the sudden sight of lanky maintenance worker Leonard (BRUCE SPENCE), they don't mind since their attention is squarely focused on hunky lifeguard Raymond (JAKE McDORMAN).

But there are two things in the way of the girls' happiness. One comes in the form of older teenager Cecilia (ARIELLE KEBBEL) and her equally snobby friends who look down on Hailey and Claire, with Cecilia -- whose father is the local TV weatherman - having also set her sights on Raymond. Far worse, however, is that it's the end of the summer and Hailey's marine biologist mother Ginny (CLAUDIA KARVAN) is moving them to Australia in a few days.

Upset, but realizing there's nothing they can do, Hailey jokingly tries to cast a spell that might intervene. That night, a fierce storm arrives and deposits the possible answer to the girls' prayers in the form of 18-year-old mermaid Aquamarine (SARA PAXTON). She's swum away from home to avoid a prearranged marriage in a few days, but if she can prove that a myth known as love really exists, she can get out of it.

Learning that she can grant wishes to those who help her, the girls give up their thoughts of landing Raymond for themselves. Instead, they decide to help Aquamarine get the lifeguard to fall in love with her in exchange for her magically stopping Hailey's move halfway around the world. With a deadline of three days and the complication of Aquamarine's new human legs changing back to her tail at sunset or if touched by water, the girls set out to help the naive mermaid find love.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Considering that we still don't know what all aquatic critters live in the sea, it isn't surprising that less informed and/or more superstitious people of old came up with some doozies in their day. One of the longer running ones were mermaids, those half woman/half fish first cousins to sirens. Who knows what real animals inspired such legends -- although manatees are certainly a good guess -- but they become popular pieces of folklore and fiction throughout the ages.

Which makes it all the more surprising that not many of them have appeared on the big screen. Sure, they've been spotted as background characters and there was even a movie named for them -- 1990's "Mermaids" -- although it was symbolic at best. The decade before that, however, had a brief thing with the sea beings namely in the form of 1984's "Splash" (notable for being Tom Hanks' first leading role and director Ron Howard's 3rd film) and 1989's "The Little Mermaid" (that reinvigorated Disney's animation department as well as the movie musical).

With the former aimed at adults and the latter at young kids, perhaps it's appropriate that the latest mermaid film, "Aquamarine" goes for the middle-ground, namely tween and young teenage girls. While only time will tell if this film will mark something significant in Hollywood that's yet to come (such as Oliver Stone's award winning tale of aquatic conspiracy in "Mermaid!"), right now it appears its best quality is just being a passing diversion for its target audience.

That's because it's nothing more than a cute and occasionally amusing tale of two 13-year-olds, the mermaid they meet, and their attempts to get a hunky lifeguard to fall in love with the latter so that she'll grant a wish that prevents one girl from moving to Australia with her mother. While the plots may be different, this is, in essence, just a watered-down version of "Splash." Adapted from Alice Hoffman's novel by John Quaintance and Jessica Bendinger, there are variations of the same sort of jokes and amusing material (mainly stemming from the naiveté of the title character up on dry land) found in the earlier work.

And although there are a few substantive thematic issues at play (one girl being afraid of the water since it seems her parents met their demise in it, and the other being forced to move yet again, this time halfway around the world), the movie otherwise has all of the depth of a teen pop star's music video (which isn't surprising considering the two leads -- Joanna "JoJo" Levesque and Emma Roberts -- also have burgeoning careers in that field as well). It's all bright, colorful and frothy, and director Elizabeth Allen seems to love using sped-up footage (including of the obligatory clothes shopping montage), seemingly just to jazz things up rather than conserve time (since there isn't too much plot through which she and the cast and crew must hurry).

Upon the first sighting of such temporally enhanced footage (right at the start of the film), I pretty much figured we were in trouble. Yet, despite that, the inevitable and unfavorable "Splash" comparisons and the overall music video meets TV sitcom vibe that pervades every inch of the offering, the film has enough cute and/or charming moments that it's not a disaster. And most of them stem from that awkward hormonal dance known as young teen love.

While little more than sitcom characters, Hailey and Claire are giddy about boys -- make that one boy in particular, Jake McDorman's hunky lifeguard -- and their looks, squeals and more regarding such matters are mildly entertaining. Considering the lightweight and predictable material with which they must work, Levesque and Roberts are okay in their parts as they have that young teenage friend aspect down pat.

Playing the Daryl Hannah part is Sara Paxton who gets decent mileage out of the recycled material (and looks a bit like Hannah all those years ago), while Arielle Kebbel embodies the usual "rhymes with witch" character who has catfight written all over her. The latter is a one-note caricature and the young actress can't do much with it, but Paxton is likable enough in her role to offset some of the script and directorial problems.

With the only real complications being a seemingly random time restraint (3 days) and the title character's reverse vampire problem (she must go into hiding at dark since that's when her legs disappear and her tale makes its comeback), the film doesn't really do much in maintaining any sort of dramatic and/or comedic momentum. But then again, I don't think the target audience cares one lick about that. Instead, they'll likely commiserate with the young protagonists, wish they could be as beautiful and confident as the mermaid is, and will fawn over the hunky lad who, not surprisingly, isn't the one who does any sort of symbolic saving despite his summer vocation.

Just cute, charming and/or sporadically amusing enough to make it mildly palatable to anyone outside the desired demographic, the film doesn't make as much of a splash as either of its mermaid-based predecessors, but should entertain its target audience. "Aquamarine" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed February 25, 2006 / Posted March 3, 2006


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