In its continued efforts to plunder and repackage old material for the in a bid to gain an ever-larger share of the Baby Boom Echo's entertainment spending, Hollywood has unleashed its latest bastardization of a literary classic. "Whatever It Takes" is a loosey-goosey adaptation of the Edmund Rostand play "Cyrano de Bergerac" that takes place in (where else?) a high school. And like every other insipid teen romance pilfered from the shelves of the local library, "Whatever It Takes" is a forgettable movie where and unrealistic teenagers are placed in unrealistic situations, and more attention is paid to the soundtrack than the script.
In this adaptation, Ryan Woodman (Shane West of "Liberty Heights") is the Cyrano character, while his next-door neighbor, Maggie Carter (Marla Sokoloff of TV's "The Practice") is Roxanne. With their balconies facing each other, they frequently converse with one another, and have, over time become good friends-- while they may not realize, it is clear to the audience that they are perfect for one another. With few eligible prospects on the immediate horizon, Maggie asks Ryan to the prom, and Ryan accepts the invitation to go as her 'friend'.
Unfortunately, Ryan has a major crush on the beautiful but unattainable Ashley (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe from "She's All That"). Furthermore, a jock by the name of Chris Campbell (James Franco of "Never Been Kissed") has the hots for Maggie. So what do two teens with misplaced hormones do? They come up with a convoluted plot whereby Ryan will coach Chris on how to win Maggie's heart in exchange for Chris setting things up between Ryan and Ashley. This way, Maggie will go to the prom with Chris, leaving Ryan free to pursue the girl of his dreams. And true to the source material, a key scene will involve Ryan hiding out of view as he whispers lines to his pal Chris that will be repeated to Maggie. Naturally, some complications will occur, as those involved come to realize that their potential suitor may not be the best match, and somehow everything will be resolved at the high school prom.
"Whatever It Takes" strains credibility from its opening moments, which only gets worse as the movie drags on and the plot undergoes rigorous calisthenics to make the story work. Suspension of disbelief is also mandatory if we are to believe that someone as intelligent as Maggie would even give the time of day to someone as unsympathetic and blatantly insincere as Chris. Similarly, it is difficult to see what Ashley sees in Ryan, let alone how their 'relationship' even gets started.
I used to think that "She's All That" was the most unbelievable high school romance, especially with its "Solid Gold" dancer-laden prom. This dubious honor can now be bestowed on "Whatever It Takes", given how the high school students in this movie must all have an average household income in excess of $100K in order to afford the lifestyle they lead. Furthermore, at this high school, there never seems to be a dress code in effect or any parents around. Yes, "Whatever It Takes" may be escapist cinema for the teenyboppers, but it frequently borders on the absurd.
Not surprisingly, there are few good, or even tolerable, performances to be found. As the emotional centers of the story, West and Sokoloff are flat and unbelievable, given the inconsistency of their characters. Aaron Paul as the film's lame comic relief becomes old very quickly, Franco's dumb and arrogant jock routine is tedious, while Richard Schiff (TV's "The West Wing") and Julia Sweeney ("Stuart Little") must be shaking their heads for being associated with two of the film's cheapest laughs.
"Whatever It Takes" certainly has what it takes to be on my growing list of the worst films of 2000, with its complete absence of any redeeming values whatsoever. I can't see even the most fickle of teenagers taking this movie seriously. Like last month's bland romance "Down to You", it will probably be quickly forgotten in the face of better quality offerings. For a better example of how the same story could be recontextualized with much greater success, look no farther than the 1987 Steve Martin film "Roxanne"-- now that was a great movie!