Love Don’t Cost a Thing

“Can’t Buy” was a fairly unremarkable production, but has since moved on to cult status among 1980 teen film followers who find it hard to resist the tepid charms of star Patrick Dempsey. “Love Don’t” contemporizes the story of a lovable loser, Alvin (Nick Cannon), who dreams of being in the cool crowd. His chance to change his fortunes comes when the most popular girl in school, Paris (Christina Milian), needs money quick and accepts Alvin’s offer to pretend she’s his girlfriend for two weeks in exchange for cash. Now fully accepted and rid of his nerd exterior, Alvin begins to lose sight of his friends and himself just as Paris is coming around to actually finding him attractive. As you can read, just like the 1987 version, the plot is nothing spectacular.

Writer/director Troy Beyer (“Let’s Talk About Sex”) has a lot of trouble making anything about “Love Don’t” seem fascinating, entertaining, or at the very least, bearable. She keeps pretty close to the original’s structure; only making superficial changes like a new urban setting, adding heaps of homophobia, and the insertion of dated Ebonics into the script (variations on “fa shizzle“ are everywhere in the film). “Can’t Buy” was a labored film and only found success in small degrees with the breezy way it went about detailing its story. “Love Don’t” isn’t nearly as kind. The new incarnation is a excruciating motion picture experience that Beyer is desperate to liven up with whatever camera techniques she can get her hands on, which explains the overuse of handheld camerawork, low angles, and pointless use of open shutter photography in the film’s climax. In pursuing style, Beyer allows the film to die in her arms, never focusing once on story development or performances. How do we know Alvin is a smart kidr He hangs around with other nerds and has poor hygiene. Why does the obscenely rich Paris need cash in the first placer Because the script is just written that way. Beyer also stages Alvin’s essential transformation from nerd-to-popular in one measly scene. “Can’t Buy” at least gave the audience a little more than that.

Nick Cannon follows up his obscenely smug and surprisingly lauded turn in last year’s train wreck “Drumline” with his role in “Love Don’t” as Alvin. Cannon has two speeds: unreadable silence or overacting goofball. The actor ping-pongs between the two acting styles throughout the film, making the experience even more unpleasant than what Beyer is going for. Cannon’s job is to convey Alvin’s quick journey from geek to chic, but the audience is never allowed a grasp on either side for very long. Cannon might be having a ball under his afro wig and Michael Jackson impressions, but next time, he should let the audience in on the fun too. Newcomer Christine Milian doesn’t fair much better, matching Cannon’s worthless performance note for note.

“Love Don’t Cost a Thing” is aided somewhat by comedian Steve Harvey’s appearance as Alvin’s father, who pushes condoms and dated style advice on to his son. While there aren’t any laughs to be found, at least Harvey is trying to put on a show, whereas the rest of the cast relies on Beyer far too much to save the day. The title reads: “Love Don’t Cost a Thing.” But maybe it should read: “Love Shouldn’t Cost a Thing.” Save your money for a film that deserves it.

Rating: D-
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