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Movie review: 'Love Don't Cost A Thing'

Tribune staff reporter

1 star (out of 4)

In 1987's "Can't Buy Me Love," nerdy Ronald Miller pays popular Cindy Peterson $1,000 - money he earned mowing lawns in the Arizona suburbs - to pretend to be his girlfriend for a month. Cindy accepts the deal in order to pay for the damages she caused to her mother's pricey suede coat, but with one caveat: no kissing. Cindy puts Ronald in a jean jacket with an upturned collar, and overnight, a cool dude is born.

In "Love Don't Cost A Thing," social outcast Alvin Johnson pays cheerleader Paris Morgan $1,500 - money he earned cleaning pools in Los Angeles - to pretend to be his girlfriend for two weeks. Paris accepts the deal in order to pay for the damages she caused to her mother's Cadillac Escalade, but with one caveat: no booty-ogling. Paris puts Alvin in a velour sweatsuit with a Sean John label, and overnight, a dope playah is born.

Writer Michael Swerdlick penned both of these teen comedies, apparently because he hasn't discovered much new to write about in the last 16 years - except black people and inflation.

Nick Cannon ("Drumline") is Alvin in this lame urban comedy. Cannon is an uncomfortable presence on screen, both as the dorky Alvin and as his transformed self, stylin' Al. He doesn't begin to inhabit the highly intelligent but insecure and dateless teenager that Alvin is; he's completely oblivious to the sting of being shunned and to the unnecessary shame that unpopular teenagers feel.

The actors playing Walter, Kenneth and Chuck, Alvin's buddies since the fourth grade, have a much more believable grasp of teen nerdhood. Taking after the ultimate geek performance, Anthony Michael Hall in John Hughes' "Sixteen Candles," this threesome nicely balances a healthy desire to fit in and that old adage: know thyself.

If Cannon can't front like a nerd, then he certainly can't play a nerd fronting like a pimp. His popular persona is all a mess, with flailing limbs and awkward struts. Sure, he's supposed to be a bit uneasy in his new, slick skin, but it's as if Alvin never actually saw normal people walking down the street until the day Paris put him in Pumas.

Add to that a laughable (in the least amusing sense of the word) performance by Steve Harvey as Alvin's time-warped dad, stuffed into plaid bell bottoms, foisting condoms on his son with Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" as his theme song, and you'll actually wish you were being subjected to the original, which at least was a mildly charming film with some genuine performances - in its day.

Things eventually fall apart for Al. But in the end, of course, he finds his real self, leaving him cooler than ever, with a booty he's allowed to ogle.

This product-placement bonanza is less a lesson in being yourself than it is a cheap knockoff's run at commercial success. The message of the remake is clear: You can dress it up with bling-bling, pipe in "Pass the Courvoisier" and refer to Al as "finer than a butter-leather Prada bag," but any way you shake it, "Love Don't Cost A Thing" is about as sharp an updated version of the original as is Jennifer Lopez's song of the same name a modern, Latina version of the Beatles classic. As Paris would say, don't even think about it.

"Love Don't Cost a Thing"
Directed by Troy Beyer; written by Beyer, Michael Swerdlick; photographed by Chuck Cohen; edited by David Codron; produced by Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Mark Burg, Ruben Cannon. A Warner Bros. Pictures and Alcon Entertainment release; opens Friday, Dec. 12. 1:41. MPAA rating: PG-13 (sexual content and sexual humor).
Alvin Johnson - Nick Cannon
Paris Morgan - Christina Milian
Clarence Johnson - Steve Harvey
Walter - Kenan Thompson
Kenneth - Kal Penn
Chuck - Kevin Christy

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