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Endless Love: Film Review

1:08 AM PST 2/13/2014 by Todd McCarthy

The Bottom Line

A highly homogenized and sanitized remake that's little better than its 1981 predecessor.

Opens 

February 14 (Universal)

Cast

Alex Pettyfer, Gabriella Wilde, Bruce Greenwood, Joely Richardson, Robert Patrick

Director

Shana Feste

Alex Pettyfer stars as a charismatic young man who falls for a privileged girl played by Gabriella Wilde in Shana Feste's love story, opening on Valentine's Day.

A blah 1981 film becomes a bland one 33 years later in Endless Love. Junking almost all the darker and more disruptive elements from Scott Spencer's 1979 best-seller -- such as pyromania, incarceration, divorce, political activism, a major character's death and, last but not least, an unhappy ending -- the present filmmakers serve up a more overtly teen-friendly melodrama that one could argue is the polar opposite of last year's Spring Breakers as a portrait of contemporary adolescence; in fact, the film almost becomes more about the most disturbed adult character than about the young lovers themselves. More than a momentary, Valentine's Day weekend box office score would be a surprise.

A misfired attempt by director Franco Zeffirelli to rekindle the adolescent ardor he had captured in his Romeo and Juliet, the earlier film was a bloodless affair starring a nubile Brooke Shields, fresh from playing a 12-year-old prostitute in Pretty Baby, and the previously and thereafter unknown Martin Hewitt. In the long run, this earlier version was notable only as the first film of an aspiring actor named Tom Cruise, the second credit for James Spader, and for a theme song by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie that spent nine weeks at number one.

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This new offering is so bright, spiffy and clean-cut that you half expect Ozzie and Harriet to come popping out the door of one of the houses. In any event, the term well-scrubbed certainly takes on new meaning when one observes the high school graduating class of which Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde) and David Elliot (Alex Pettyfer) are members. A picture-perfect blonde, Jade is said to be a bookish type who's been so absorbed by her studies for four years that she's had no time to meet any of her classmates, including David, a pretty hunky guy who, if he's attracted to Jade as much as he says he is, you'd think would have tried to come on to her at least once before.

As it is, David has to pull a stunt while parking cars at a snooty restaurant to attract her attention, then goes out of his way to make a success of a party Jade throws in order to finally meet all the classmates she spent four years avoiding. She's heading for Brown in the fall and is meant to spend the summer in a high-end internship her big-deal surgeon father, Hugh (Bruce Greenwood), has arranged.

Although the rest of the family, which includes Hugh's wife, Anne (Joely Richardson), and son, Keith (Rhys Wakefield), seems to have basically recovered, Hugh still hasn't gotten over the death of his other son some time back; he still maintains a candlelit shrine to him in his bedroom in the gated family mansion in Atlanta. And he takes an immediate dislike to David from the outset, considering him a lower-class ruffian not worthy of his beautiful daughter.

VIDEO: 'Endless Love' Trailer

Even here, the film's mindset seems off; Hugh would probably disapprove of any young man who came sniffing around his daughter's door, but David is such a sincere, fine-looking fellow of good will that the only possible objection Hugh can have is a very silly, 1950s-type wrong-side-of-the tracks prejudice; David's working-class father (Robert Patrick) runs an auto shop. The way her dad reacts to David, you'd think Jade had brought home Marilyn Manson or Dennis Rodman.

In fact, David is so polite that, when Jade encourages him to sneak into the house late one night to make love for the first time, his reaction is, “I can wait.” Jade promptly overrules him, thus launching a summer romance that infuriates Hugh when his headstrong daughter suddenly cancels the internship and then privately invites David to join them at their gorgeous lakeside house, to which Hugh has taken the family precisely to get Jade away from her boyfriend.

Crucially, Jade's attractive mother Anne, whose own romantic instincts and shy artistic ambitions are nicely layered in by Richardson, sees how happy David has made her daughter and strongly favors the match. But Hugh persists in his obstructions, digs up some dirt on David and finally plays a trump card that would seem to put an end to the putative endless love.

So intently does the script by director Shana Feste (Country Strong) and Joshua Safran examine the reasons for Hugh's all-round disagreeableness and hostility, and so much more developed an actor is Greenwood than are the kids, that Hugh becomes the de facto center of the film; he's the heavy of the piece, but he's also the one who makes the longest and most transformative emotional and psychological journey.

Otherwise, the film is larded with very mild (and drug-free) teen pranks and horseplay, including partying, hot-car joy rides, splashing into the lake, an illicit nocturnal visit to the zoo and sneaking in and out at all hours, as well as momentary earnestness when it's time to get it on, such as during the decorous fireside sexual initiation. It's all so brightly lit and everyone's so smartly turned out that almost every shot looks like a potential magazine ad. And it's about as interesting dramatically.

One scene of David getting into an airport far enough to meet Jade at a gate upon her arrival would seem impossible in today's world.

The leads are at least livelier than were their predecessors in these roles all those years ago, although they hardly seem to be burning with adolescent desire and carnality. While Wilde, at 24, still passes plausibly for a teen here (this was filmed before the actress became a mother), Pettyfer, the hunk from Magic Mike, looks well into his twenties and decidedly more mature than his costar, even if he's actually a year younger.

The generic, generally up-tempo teen-slanted song score is notable for its extreme banality.

Opens: February 14 (Universal)
Production: Bluegrass Films, Fake Empire
Cast: Alex Pettyfer, Gabriella Wilde, Bruce Greenwood, Joely Richardson, Robert Patrick, Rhys Wakefield, Dayo Okeniyi, Emma Rigby, Anna Enger
Director: Shana Feste
Screenwriters: Shana Feste, Joshua Safran, based on the book by Scott Spencer
Producers: Scott Stuber, Pamela Abdy, Josh Schwartz, Stephanie Savage
Executive producers: J. Miles Dale, Tracy Falco
Director of photography: Andrew Dunn
Production designer: Clay Griffith
Costume designer: Stacey Battat
Editor: Maryann Brandon
Music: Christophe Beck
PG-13 rating, 111 minutes