A Walk to Remember

(2002) ** Pg
104 min. Warner Brothers. Director: Adam Shankman. Cast: Shane West, Mandy Moore, Peter Coyote, Daryl Hannah, Clayne Crawford.

You may have heard that A Walk to Remember is a pleasant antidote to postmodern teen flicks and gross-out "romantic" comedies. For much of its running time, this assessment is accurate...which makes it all the more irritating when the weight of the rolling-stone-screenplay finally gathers enough moss to obscure the uncommonly sweet enterprise.

Director Adam Shankman, who brought you The Wedding Planner, has the dire misfortune of being the first to roll out a teen movie since the release of Not Another Teen Movie. Bad move, Warner Brothers. Karen Janszen's screenplay--based on a presumably schmaltzy novel by Nicholas Sparks which spent over a year on both the hardcover and paperback New York Times bestseller lists--trots out many of the central teen-movie tropes so recently skewered: the girl who's a bit prudish and a little dowdy, but magnetic and luminous (Mandy Moore), who attracts the "I don't take anything seriously" school "bad boy" (Shane West, from TV's superior Once and Again), and even, God forbid, the "token black guy" of use almost solely as comic relief fodder. But Sparks and Janszen aren't limited to teen archetypes, taking the hoariest of romance clichés to town. More on that anon.

So Moore's a choir girl, see? And West has participated in a dangerous prank resulting in forced community service and other punishments including *gasp* starring in the school play (hmm...what crimes did the cast of the film commit?). Anyway, Moore's goody-two-shoes Jamie (whose father is a preacher played by Peter Coyote) keeps crossing paths with West's Landon, creating strange stirrings in his...heart. Soon, the once-snarky Landon is enjoying his new pursuits, defending Jamie's honor, and becoming a completely different person, to the dismay of his friends.

Along the way, the school play provides an excuse for an overproduced Moore power ballad ("Only Hope") and the customary montages of character development (the shorthand representation of the growth of the play works cleverly). In the second act, the film keeps threatening to hit a stride while capturing some genuine feeling from the two excellent leads. The sweet gestures between the couple are a definite plus, but nothing can save the film from the "BIG TWIST" of the third act, which I am about to reveal. If you don't know and don't want to know, stop reading NOW.

Moore's character has the worst kind of illness: movie cancer. In an unfortunately offensive treatment of the disease, this teen-pop Camille continues to have good hair days and a luminous glow right up to her gentle passing (a dishonest dissolve, with the narration "Jamie and I had a perfect summer together...and then she went..."). This, after the feeble explanation that she has known of her disease for two years, and has only just begun her completely untreatable decline. Good, ol' movie cancer: deadly, untreatable, conveniently scheduled, and almost completely unsymptomatic until the picturesque fadeout. I'm sure cancer sufferers and their family and friends will enjoy this umpteenth use of the disease as movie romance fodder, a plot device audiences need again like a hole in the head.

A Walk to Remember takes some steps in a good direction, offering an unusually vulnerable teenage leading man and a promisingly sturdy performance from pop queen Mandy Moore. Sadly, this misdirected effort, with its half-baked build-up and disturbingly bland wrap-up, stumbles along the path.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 1

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround

Street date: 7/9/2002

Distributor: Warner

Befitting a new film, the sound and image are excellent, with an anamorphic transfer and surround sound. Fans of the film will enjoy the battery of extras, though a few dozen deleted scenes alluded to on the commentary are nowhere to be found.

On a chatty, catty party line of a commentary, Shankman, West, and Moore often forget they're recording a commentary and frequently talk over one another. It's an engaging listen, which gives a feel for the heartfelt, fun-loving, but hectic set which produced the movie. The three tell tales out of school about the rest of the cast and crew and how they conjured the most difficult emotions. On the second commentary, strange bedfellows Nicholas Sparks and Karen Janszen (the novelist and screenwriter, respectively) delineate changes from and additions to the novel's narrative, including a period shift from the fifties to the nineties; Sparks also touches his own sister's death from a brain tumor, which inspired the novel. Both commentaries address the belated decision to go for a "PG" rating and are careful not to pigeonhole the film as Christian, per se, preferring the terms "faith" and "spiritual" (Shankman adds that the film was directed by "a gay Jew").

Also included are bios, theatrical trailer, and a music video for Moore's "Cry," featuring original footage of her and West.
Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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