Saturday, February 15, 2014

Summer Lovin': Blandness gets the best of dreamy-looking "Endless Love"



Endless Love (2014)
105 min., rated PG-13.

"Endless Love" might be the prettiest, most sun-washed Abercrombie & Fitch commercial blown up for the big screen with two comely English model-turned-actors who could be in a contract with The CW network. It's a remake of the 1981 Brooke Shields vehicle, cited to be the worst film of its decade, so maybe Scott Spencer's novel was dying to be re-adapted. Written and directed by Shana Feste (2010's clunky, clich├ęd "Country Strong") and co-written by Joshua Safran (TV's "Gossip Girl"), this girl-and-boy-fall-in-love, girl's-dad-tries-keeping-them-apart romantic melodrama is indefensibly bland, doing little to differentiate itself from the spate of Nicholas Sparks romances, but even if it's sometimes to a fault, it unabashedly embraces its gauzy first-love sensitivity. There will be mature audiences who will find it tepid and cheesy, others of a younger demographic whose world will be rocked by any star-crossed swoonfest, and a middle-ground few who will be surprised to find a keen rooting interest between the two lead characters. All in all, "Endless Love" keeps straddling the line of plainly predictable and engagingly sincere, but at least it's not nauseatingly sappy.

Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde) is a meek, bookish, and privileged 17-year-old Atlanta high school graduate who's been too sheltered to live out her teenage years. Her post-graduation plans include an internship in two weeks and then attending Brown University in the fall as a pre-med major, much to the approval of her affluent cardiologist father, Hugh (Bruce Greenwood), who hasn't been quite the same since the death of his eldest son. Before she leaves for the summer, Jade meets David Elliot (Alex Pettyfer), the son of a working-class mechanic (Robert Patrick), who's noticed her in school before but finally has a conversation with her while working valet at her family's country club. They are thrust into a passionate relationship, one that becomes forbidden by Jade's father when it seems she doesn't want the future that's been planned for her, and then David's past comes into question. College might not be in the cards for David—even though his SAT scores are impressive—but finding love is most important to him. Will Jade and David be torn apart or is their love actually endless?

As far as teenage romances are concerned, "Endless Love" is harmless and sanitized, but it does what it should. Director Feste generates a lush, sultry atmosphere that's both pleasantly shot and irresistible, especially with a blissful montage cued to NONONO's "Pumpin' Blood" of the young lovers over the course of the summer. There's an undeniable swoon factor and a sense of liberation, not to mention an all-consuming love that defies an arrest and a restraining order. Isn't that the measure of any great love? Going against what could have been an irreparable problem, Wilde (2013's "Carrie") and Pettyfer (2012's "Magic Mike") have more going on than attractive, freshly scrubbed model faces. Easy on the eyes, yes, but they also create a warm, naturalistic connection and cook up a surprising amount of heat, which goes a long way toward making their impetuous romance feel like something worth fighting for. The long-limbed, blonde-haired Wilde is a ray of light, credibly conveying a mix of innocence, growth, and intelligence, and Pettyfer continues to make more of an impression than he did vacantly starting out in a dud duo (2011's back-to-back "I Am Number Four" and "Beastly"), as if he was hand-picked more for his strong jawline and torso than thespian abilities and emotional range. Communicating their desire for one another and the varying emotions that come with their forbidden love, the pair of twentysomething performers must be more than blank slates to keep us invested and want to wish them well. It might feel like low-stakes puppy love, but not to Jade and David.

Working from potentially cardboard-cutout types, the supporting cast provides additional interest. As Jade's oil-and-water parents Hugh and Anne, Bruce Greenwood and Joely Richardson bring more layers to their roles than what was probably written for them. He's not just one-dimensionally controlling, dealing with a painful mourning and overreacting because he only wants what's best for his daughter, and she's not just a doormat, even if she longs for the love her daughter is just experiencing for the first time. Robert Patrick is a grounded presence as David's hard-working father Harry, and he shares an intense scene with Greenwood. The equally vibrant and charismatic Rhys Wakefield and Dayo Okeniyi also interject some life whenever they're on screen as Jade's live-wire brother Keith, who feels like a disappointment to his dad, and David's wisecracking buddy.

"Endless Love" isn't that bad of a movie, nor is it without its groan-worthy and yell-at-the-screen moments, especially when the plot keeps kicking on to amp up the conflict, needlessly so. Because the original had them, we get a reconfigured car accident and a house fire, which is so effortlessly telegraphed. At times, it seems like it might even venture into the territory of 1996's "Fear"where Mark Wahlberg obsesses over Reese Witherspoon, so much that he sheds the Eddie Haskell facade and goes all Jack Torrance on her family's assesbut, alas, there's a facile happy ending in store. All things considered, for what it is, it's watchable slush. Something that can't be said for its '80s source: the 2014 edition of "Endless Love" won't be the worst of the year or decade.

Grade: C +

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