- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 14, 2003

Michael Swerdlick has a sweet deal. He gets paid twice for a screenplay idea he ripped off from Paul McCartney. Mr. Swerdlick, for the uninitiated, was the mastermind behind 1987’s romantic teen comedy “Can’t Buy Me Love,” retooled in “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” for young black audiences. He received a co-writing credit for this year’s model with director Troy Beyer (who, in the 1980s, co-starred as Diahann Carroll’s daughter Jacqueline ‘Jackie’ Deveraux on ABC’s nighttime soap, “Dynasty”).

“Love,” which opened Friday in area theaters, replaces Patrick Dempsey with Nick Cannon (“Drumline”) as the low-on-mojo high-school dweeb who pays a cheerleader beauty (Christina Milian) to masquerade as his girlfriend and thereby help break him into the cool crowd.

The setup in the original turned on a ruined $1,000 dress; here, adjusting for inflation, it’s $1,500 in car repairs. Mr. Dempsey’s dweeb rescued the popular babe from her mother’s wrath with cash he’d set aside for a high-powered telescope.

Mr. Cannon’s auto-mechanic dweeb, Alvin Johnson, bribes this “Love’s” babe with savings meant for a German-designed camshaft. Why can’t a young black man be interested in astronomy, too?

Anyway, the deal is done, and over the course of two weeks the voluptuously named Paris Morgan (Miss Milian) transforms Alvin from an introverted frog who sits in the visitors’ bleachers for home games into a mack-daddy prince.

For her troubles — all the cool kids wonder what’s gotten into her — Alvin lets his newfound coolness go to his head, turning into a cocky punk and forgetting who his real friends are. You don’t need to have seen the first “Love” to know how this all plays out.

To its credit, I guess, “Love” is no worse than its predecessor; it’s as pat a morality tale as it was in ‘87. There are a few departures, however. This update is slightly more risque, with comedian Steve Harvey, as Alvin’s ribald man-child father, scoring laughs as he teaches his innocent son how to tear open a condom with mood-maintaining savoir-faire.

The main difference has to do with the brand-name aesthetic of so many B-movies made today. “Love” is a fashion show for the urban outfitted, with all its players catwalking in the latest overpriced hip-hop gear. The age-old high school conflict of jocks versus nerds is replaced here by the fashionably-dressed versus the shabbily-dressed.

Love may not cost a thing, but those clothes sure do. Anyone care to wager on which message will most impress this movie’s target audience?

*1/2TITLE: “Love Don’t Cost a Thing”

RATING: PG-13 (Sexual content)

CREDITS: Directed by Troy Beyer. Produced by Mark Burg, Reuben Cannon, Broderick Johnson and Andrew A. Kosove. Written by Michael Swerdlick and Miss Beyer based on Mr. Swerdlick’s 1987 screenplay “Can’t Buy Me Love.” Cinematography by Chuck Cohen. Original music by Richard Gibbs.

RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes.

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS


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