Fresh insights bring added value to ‘Love Don’t Cost a Thing’

Times Staff Writer

“Love Don’t Cost a Thing” finds earnest high school senior Alvin Johnson (Nick Cannon) on his pool-cleaning job when he locks eyes with beautiful Paris Morgan (Christina Milian), the most popular girl in school, during a party at her upscale home. It’s not just a matter of natural attraction on Alvin’s part but that Paris represents everything Alvin lacks and longs for.

So when Paris turns up at the body shop where he’s building a car engine he designed in an attempt to win a college scholarship, he immediately gives her the $1,500 she needs to repair her mother’s car and offers to do the work free. That way her mother will never know her daughter disobeyed orders not to use the vehicle while she was away. All Paris will have to do is pose as Alvin’s girlfriend so that he too can become popular.

Once this premise is in place, this breezy yet thoughtful remake of the also affecting 1987 “Can’t Buy Me Love” takes off like a shot, scattering laughs and also hitting some telling targets. Often rowdy and uproarious, the film also has surprising depth and subtext. Director Troy Beyer, who reworked the earlier film’s script with its writer, Michael Swerdlick, has brought just the right touch to the material, and the result is at once fun and satisfying.

Paris might have braved facing her mother had she not just suffered the humiliation of hearing on TV her boyfriend -- a year ahead of her in school and now an NBA star -- tell an interviewer that he regarded himself romantically a “free agent.” Alvin and Paris have connected at just the moment when she is beginning to reappraise her values.

As a young woman of intelligence and character, Paris has outgrown the trappings of superficial social success Alvin craves. But as an individual of principle she will live up to her word, and she starts him on a makeover that will ensure his popularity. That it all goes to his head faster than water evaporating on a desert highway during a heat wave only causes Paris to question her priorities all the more.


For all his silly posturing, Alvin has the potential to attract Paris, even though it seems he’s foolishly determined to do everything conceivable to drive her away once their deal is over. Alvin desperately needs to see the light, not only about Paris but also about his entire future.

Cannon and Milian are completely engaging in their far-ranging roles, and they are backed by a large and lively supporting cast. Especially good is a scene-stealing Steve Harvey as Alvin’s loving but randy father, whose instructions to his embarrassed son on safe sex and lovemaking are hilarious. Harvey is equally compelling in serious moments, expressing his pride in and love for his son. “Love Don’t Cost a Thing” is one of those rare films about teenagers that tries to be both sassy and sweet -- and succeeds on both counts.


‘Love Don’t Cost a Thing’

MPAA rating: PG-13, for sexual content and humor

Times guidelines: Racy dialogue in regard to lovemaking and safe sex

Nick Cannon...Alvin Johnson

Christina Milian...Paris Morgan

Kenan Thompson...Walter Colley

Kal Penn...Kenneth Warman

Steve Harvey...Clarence Johnson

A Warner Bros. Pictures and Alcon Entertainment presentation of a Burg/Koules production. Director Troy Beyer. Producers Andrew A. Kosove, Broderick Johnson, Mark Burg, Reuben Cannon. Executive producer Oren Koules. Screenplay by Troy Beyer and Michael Swerdlick; based upon the screenplay “Can’t Buy Me Love” by Swerdlick. Cinematographer Chuck Cohen. Editor David Codron. Music Richard Gibbs. Costumes Christine Peters, Jennifer Mallini. Production designer Cabot McMullen. Art director David Ellis. Set decorator Joyce Anne Gilstrap. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.

In general release.