[Screen It]


(2001) (Kirsten Dunst, Jay Hernandez) (PG-13)

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Drama: Two young lovers from opposite sides of the track try to make their romance work despite their differences and the reaction of others to their relationship.
Nicole Oakley (KIRSTEN DUNST) and Carlos Nuņez (JAY HERNANDEZ) couldn't be more different. She's the daughter of wealthy Congressman Tom Oakley (BRUCE DAVISON) and lives in the upscale community of Pacific Palisades, California. A troubled seventeen-year-old, Nicole enjoys goofing around and skipping classes with her good friend, Maddy (TARYN MANNING), and knows she can get away with most anything, even if her stepmother, Courtney (LUCINDA JENNEY), doesn't seem to like her.

Carlos, on the other hand, lives in East L.A. with his family that includes his brother, Hector (ROLANDO MOLINA), and their strict mother (SOLEDAD ST. HILAIRE). He's a top-notch, straight-laced student and athlete who hopes to attend the U.S. Naval Academy upon graduation. Accordingly, he endures a two-hour daily bus trip to Pacific High School, that Nicole coincidentally attends, to get the best education available to him.

The two then meet, sparks immediately fly and they quickly become a romantic item, much to the surprise of their respective friends and family. Nicole's self-destructive and lackadaisical ways soon begin to affect Carlos, however, a point that doesn't sit well with his mother who's concerned about his future. More surprisingly, it's Nicole's father who tries to put an end to the relationship, not because he's worried about his daughter, but instead of how she's influencing Carlos.

As the two young lovers learn more about each other while facing self-doubts and various forces that try to break them up, they must decide what's right for them individually and as a couple.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
As long as there are young people of differing ethnicity, religion, creed or social status, there will always be romances that develop and go against the grain. They're the type that pit the young lovers against the rest of the world - namely parents, friends and even strangers who don't understand or accept the romance due to whatever the inherent and presumably incompatible differences of the participants.

Such romantic trials and tribulations are obviously good fodder for drama, and even William Shakespeare's best known work (at least among teens) had two such characters, Romeo and Juliet, dealing with their differences and familial disapproval of their love.

The years may have passed and the times may have changed, but the gist of the Bard's work lives on in "crazy/beautiful," the latest such tale of teen romance, angst and conflict. Of course, as most adults have come to realize through the experience of hindsight regarding heartbreak and then new love, there are plenty of fish in the sea and what seems like the end of the world at the time will eventually be nothing but a blip, if that, in the participants' distant memory.

Most teens, on the other hand, live in the here and now and thus expect their cinematic contemporaries to do the same, a point for which this film will not disappoint. Director John Stockwell (a former actor in films such as "Christine" and "Top Gun" turned filmmaker of pictures for HBO such as "Breast Men" and "Cheaters") and screenwriters Phil Hay & Matt Manfredi (making their feature film debut) obviously know their target audience and what they want and expect from a film like this.

Accordingly, the filmmakers have delivered an MTV-style romantic drama that will probably play near perfectly to such teens. Accompanied by a seemingly nonstop soundtrack and music video sensibility, the plot follows the standard and predictable trajectory of two young people from opposite sides of the social track meeting, flirting and falling in love, much to the disappointment and/or dismay of their family and friends.

That obviously leads to the lovers' resolve to stay together and fight the good fight, although various events lead one or both of them to question the logic/sanity/smarts of them being a couple. It's then up to the strength of their love that will determine whether they ultimately stay together or part ways for good.

The "big" twist here is in the role reversal where the rich white girl is the reckless troublemaker while the poor Latino teen is the straight-laced student and athlete. To top it off, the girl's father, a rich Congressman, doesn't want the two dating. It's not because he's a racist or social elitist or that he has that "he's not good enough for my little girl" mentality. Rather, it's that he's concerned about what sort of bad influence she'll be on this young man's seemingly bright future.

In such regards, the stage is set for plenty of teen romance, angst, emotional outbreaks and most every other element and reaction associated with young love. What do you suppose will possibly happen? Will the two teen lovers overcome their differences? Can they survive the pressure put on them from others and society? Will the politician father call for Congressional hearings on interracial, cross-social teen relationships? Tune in next week for yet another episode of "The Days of the Lives of the Young and the Restless."

Yes, it all sounds very melodramatic and has that tinge of an afternoon school special designed to show kids that everyone can get along and should ignore such differences. Thankfully, the filmmakers prevent either from getting too far out of hand and they certainly benefit from the presence and performances by their lead actors who wallow - excuse me - appear in this teen soap opera.

Proving she still has acting range to spare, Kirsten Dunst ("Bring It On," "The Virgin Suicides") is quite good and believable as the troubled teen. Making a "bad" character credible yet still sympathetic to the audience isn't as easy as playing the perky parts, and Dunst manages to get us interested in her character, even if the writing never delves too deeply into her psyche beyond the usual stereotypes.

Playing against her is Jay Hernandez (TV's "Hang Time" and "Undressed") as the all around good guy, a part that's obviously somewhat easier to embody but is similarly limited by character development that doesn't stray far from the norm. Yet, Hernandez has that sort of screen presence and megawatt smile that works well on the big screen and could turn him into a star. The chemistry between his and Dunst's characters is realistic and palatable enough to make that part of the film work and probably get many teens' hearts all aflutter.

As far as the supporting performances are concerned, Bruce Davison ("X-Men," "At First Sight") delivers a good take as the trouble teen's father who initially seems distant and noncaring, and Taryn Manning ("Lucky 13," TV's "Get Real") fits the bill as the protagonist's party-hearty co-conspirator. Lucinda Jenney ("Thirteen Days," "The Deep End of the Ocean") and Rolando Molina ("Next Friday," "Primary Colors"), however, can't do much with their characters that are either too stereotypical or limited in scope and screen time.

Overall, the film is obviously nothing new or particularly noteworthy as it treads over grounds that are more than familiar. Nevertheless, its young love against the odds and "parents just don't understand" themes, along with the seemingly nonstop rock and pop soundtrack means the film will probably play rather well to many teens who will easily identify with what's presented here. "crazy/beautiful" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed June 19, 2001 / Posted June 29, 2001

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