Movie review, 'A Walk to Remember'

Instead of capitalizing on her midriff-baring, teen-idol image, pop star Mandy Moore loses herself in earth-tone sweaters as quiet preacher's daughter Jamie Sullivan in "A Walk to Remember," a syrupy melodrama based on Nicholas Sparks' equally syrupy book of the same name.

Though it's bolstered by Moore's performance, the film has a saccharine script that's barely worthy of the description "mediocre after-school special." While Jamie is little more than a teen-movie stereotype (the misunderstood "Pretty Ugly Girl"), Moore brings a quiet realism to an otherwise one-note character condemned to some gawd-awful dialogue.

Example: When rebel without a clue Landon Carter ("Once and Again's" Shane West) asks for her help in rehearsing his lead role in the high school's spring play, she agrees, making him promise that he not "fall in love with her" in the process.

After he does, of course, she says, "I told you not to fall in love with me."

Although the story is told through the initially cruel, transparent Landon character, Moore easily captures more interest by being both self-assured and socially awkward, seemingly at ease with her outcast status. When Landon's friends mock-compliment Jamie on her wardrobe, she emits a single "thank you" that conveys more sincerity than the whole rest of the movie can muster.

Moore - whose only previous acting experience was in "The Princess Diaries" - sings twice in the film. She's introduced as a choir soloist in her daddy's (Peter Coyote) church, but there's a second more obvious stab at the music video format that takes place in the play, during which Landon discovers his love for her angelic purity.

This overdone plot device seems subtle compared with the traumatic and thoroughly unbelievable turn the movie takes in its final half-hour, though to be fair to director Adam Shankman ("The Wedding Planner"), he follows Sparks' best-selling book faithfully. But only soap operas get away with this type of narrative blindsiding - such a blatant yank on the heartstrings.

Good performances in bad movies are nothing new, but it's sad that Moore's first major cinematic outing scrapes the bottom of the melodramatic barrel. Let's hope that next time she finds a movie worthy of her budding talent.

1 star
"A Walk to Remember"

Directed by Adam Shankman; screenplay by Karen Janszen; based on the novel by Nicholas Sparks; photographed by Julio Macat; edited by Emma E. Hickox; production design by Doug Hall; produced by Denise Di Novi; A Warner Bros. Pictures release; opens Friday, Jan. 25. Running time: 1:40. MPAA rating: PG (thematic elements, language and some sensual material).
Landon Carter - Shane West
Jamie Sullivan - Mandy Moore
Reverend Sullivan - Peter Coyote Cynthia Carter - Daryl Hannah

Robert K. Elder is a Chicago Tribune Staff Writer.

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