For those baffled critics wondering where the innocence of youth has gone -- look no further than the movies. "Here on Earth" Yes, we're talking about those teen romances in which the universe (inhabited by the 15-to-17-something characters as portrayed by 20-to-25-something actors) is so compulsively single-purposed that its impervious to tedium, doubt and the everyday stuff of reality that comprise teen lives.
This week brings two such new offerings to theaters. Even though plot isn't necessarily a crucial element to the enjoyment of such flicks, we'll go into them anyway.
First up: "Whatever It Takes", (opening wide, Friday). A teen reworking of "Cyrano de Bergerac" with the hero sans the big nose since, in the high school hierarchy, being unpopular is a fate worse than being physically unattractive. As the story goes, Shane West plays a nerdy A-student (and to hammer in the fact that he's really nerdy, he plays the accordion) who conspires with his polar opposite, a rich jock (played by James Franco) to woo their respective love interests. And as the story twist goes, something happens and West finds himself really in love with the girl that he's trying to help Franco court.
Next is "Here on Earth" (opening wide, Friday). The old love-triangle thing is in place here, but with a schmaltzy, tear-jerking bent. The film pits Leelee Sobieski (last seen as the sexually precocious teen in "Eyes Wide Shut"), Chris Klein ("American Pie") and Josh Hartnett ("Halloween: H20") in the triangle and lets them deal with first love, jealousy and loss -- in ways only teen-agers apparently can.
In other new releases:
It's only in watching the effortless fluidity of kung-fu stars Jackie Chan and Jet Li that we realize how embarrassingly slow and clunky self-proclaimed martial artists such as Chuck Norris, Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal are. While Chan has honed in on the genre of comedy as his crossover vehicle, Li is still in search for his own mainstream niche. So after playing the bad guy in "Lethal Weapon 4" and the taciturn superhero in "Black Mask" (originally a Hong Kong export), Li seems to be attempting to break through his martial arts-oriented acting resume in the action drama "Romeo Must Die", (opening wide, Wednesday). Don't get us wrong: Li is still hired to kick butt here, but in "Romeo," it looks like the underused actor will finally get a chance to act, too. Li plays an ex-cop who's caught in the middle of a war between an Asian-American gang and a black gang when he falls in love with Aaliyah Haughton (also known as just Aaliyah, the R&B singer).
As to films opening in limited run, there's the documentary on South Africa, "Long Night's Journey into Day" (opening in New York, Wednesday), the Indian film "Such a Long Journey" (limited release, Friday), the supernatural drama "Waking the Dead" (limited release, Friday), the voyeuristic thriller "Buddy Boy" (opening in Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco, Friday) and "Color of Paradise" (opening in Los Angeles and New York, Friday).
Expanded releases this week include "The Lifestyle" and Japanese anime "X".