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Movie Review

'A Walk to Remember' Dawdles on the Path to Teen Romance

The story of first love, starring pop singer Mandy Moore, has a solid cast but suffers from low energy and a shameless score.

January 25, 2002|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"A Walk to Remember" is a sensitively told story of first love that could have been more affecting with a little more grit and without so mawkish a score. On the plus side are the winning portrayals of its leads, Shane West and Mandy Moore, and a solid supporting cast headed by Peter Coyote as Moore's minister father and Daryl Hannah as West's understanding mother. This Warner Bros. release follows "Message in a Bottle" as the second of the romantic novels of Nicholas Sparks to reach the screen.

The film opens with a tense sequence in which a group of Beaufort, N.C., high school kids head for the local cement factory, where a newcomer to the community is forced to dive into pool of water in the dead of night to become a member of their clique.

Sure enough, the diver surfaces breathing but unconscious, injured by debris hidden beneath the surface of the murky pond. His erstwhile new friends race for their cars. Only one youth, West's Landon Carter, lingers to check on the condition of the injured diver. He too tries to get away but totals his car in a collision with pursuing police.

Sparks and adapter Karen Janszen can scarcely be accused of building sympathy for this bunch. Sullen and petulant, Landon is lucky: The authorities give him a slap on the wrist by ordering him to tutor a student on weekends and, of all things, participate in an upcoming school play.

He is cast opposite Moore's Jamie Sullivan, who is radiant onstage but a virtual pariah offstage for her combination of brains and dowdiness. The daughter of a conservative widowed minister (played by Coyote), Jamie wears drab long dresses and almost always a bile-green sweater. In a screen tradition as old as Hollywood, Jamie is not really an ugly duckling, just a radiant beauty with a lousy wardrobe.

Jamie has a terrific effect on Landon, freeing him from the tyranny of the mediocrity that seems to be the eternal by-product of teen peer pressure. He discovers that Jamie is actually comfortable within her father's conservative outlook, for she is as spiritual as she is intellectual.

While Landon is reassessing his values under her influence, he succeeds in persuading Jamie's father to let him take his daughter out to dinner. (He has less luck in the wardrobe department.) Gradually, from their different perspectives, the two teenagers succeed in opening each other up to the world and, of course, fall in love in the process.

Without knowing what is coming, it is possible to sense the movie will throw a tear-jerking curve. It would have been nice if it hadn't, but the film pulls it off fairly well, shameless hearts-and-flowers music aside.

West and Moore rise to the challenge their roles demand under the committed direction of Adam Shankman, who works well with actors but needed to attend more closely to the energy level of both this movie and his first, "The Wedding Planner," which deftly teamed Jennifer Lopez and Matthew McConaughey.

"A Walk to Remember" could have been crisper and punchier, but it's likely to please audiences who like movies that demand four hankies.

*

MPAA rating: PG, for thematic elements, language and some sensual material. Times guidelines: The film is suitable family fare.

'A Walk to Remember'

Shane West ... Landon Carter

Mandy Moore ... Jamie Sullivan

Peter Coyote ... Rev. Sullivan

Daryl Hannah ... Cynthia

A Warner Bros. presentation, in association with Pandora, of a Di Novi Pictures production. Director Adam Shankman. Producers Denise Di Novi and Hunt Lowry. Executive producers E.K. Gaylord II, Bill Johnson, Casey La Scala and Edward McDonnell. Screenplay by Karen Janszen; from the novel by Nicholas Sparks. Cinematographer Julio Macat. Editor Emma E. Hickox. Costumes and production designer Doug Hall. Art director Linwood Taylor. Set decorator Burton Rencher. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.

In general release.

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