- The Washington Times - Monday, July 2, 2001

"Crazy/Beautiful" seems intended, vainly, to flatter a 17-year-old calamity named Nicole Oakley (Kirsten Dunst).

A stoned and heedless cupcake of privilege from Pacific Palisades, Nicole is brandished as lip-smacking jailbait for most of the movie, usually in concert with a sidekick called Mandy, a peppier blond wastrel impersonated by Taryn Manning. They're ostentatiously touchy-huggy pals in the early stages. One frequently suspects that a "hard R" version of the movie could be assembled without too much inconvenience.

The film is a parochial exercise in social pandering. "C/B" is designed to con a set of youth constituencies that loom larger for Hollywood than the public at large. On one hand, we have affluent and easily corruptible suburban teens, glorified in a pitying way by the wayward and needy Nicole. On the other, we have poor but aspiring Hispanic teens, celebrated in the person of Jay Hernandez as Carlos Nunez, who commutes four hours a day between East Los Angeles and Pacific Palisades to prosper in a more advantageous school environment.

To no one's surprise, Carlos is envisioned as an optimum diamond in the rough: honor student, football stalwart and excellent candidate for the Naval Academy. A plausible cause for alarm is manipulated for grotesque special pleading when an infatuation develops between Carlos and Nicole, the latest inadequate updates on Romeo and Juliet. The girl is considered bad news by not only Carlos' teammates and family members (they get a gander when Nicole and Mandy invade Nunez turf and make themselves conspicuously slutty in public) but also her own father.

That would be Bruce Davison as a liberal congressman, Tom Oakley, who would like to salvage the girl without sacrificing his second marriage, which has produced a baby daughter. Ultimately, he seems to prefer confronting his wife rather than Nicole with ultimatums. The whereabouts of Nicole's mother are a suspect mystery until the final episodes; the screenwriters resolve this tease in a way calculated to make belated excuses of a flimsy Freudian kind for the heroine's chronic bleariness and misconduct.

The expedient partiality that allows "Crazy/Beautiful" to pretend that Nicole and Carlos are a precious love match should stupefy anyone who takes their disparities seriously. It does seem unfair to expect Carlos to overcompensate for his beloved's defects indefinitely, even if his father-in-law has an inside track to the better shrinks and rehab clinics. Only in Hollywood would this sort of mismatch seem a source of inspiration and overconfidence. You're reminded that "Romeo and Juliet" would be a weaker conception if that Montague-Capulet feud could be patched up in the spirit of Hollywood demographic solicitude.

Every social setting is observed with utmost superficiality by director John Stockwell. There are a couple of inadvertently funny touches. I liked the suggestion that Mandy was using a folk-song therapy on Nicole to cheer her up at one goofy juncture. The cast seems so shorthanded when it comes to illustrating Anglo student body types that one young actor has to triple up, being the amiable Anglo teammate in one scene and then the ethnic troublemaker in another and finally the wretch who nuzzles Nicole in a hot tub, obliging Carlos to hasten to the rescue.

I don't think anyone bothers to point out that Carlos' methods of trifling with the girl's erotic availability qualify him for arrest on charges of statutory rape. Lucky for him, Mr. Oakley is a good liberal who needs someone crazy enough to take Nicole off his hands.

One-half Star out of Four Stars

RATING: PG-13 ("mature thematic material involving teens, drug and alcohol content, sexuality and language," according to the MPAA; an arguably lenient rating, given the frequent profanity and pandering depictions of drinking, drugging and fornicating teen-age characters)

CREDITS: Directed by John Stockwell. Written by Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi.

RUNNING TIME: 95 minutes

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