Rated PG - Running Time: 1:40 - Released 1/25/02

I don't know if author Nicholas Sparks intended his novel A Walk To Remember to be a long commercial for Christianity, but that seems to be the aim of director Adam Shankman (The Wedding Planner) and screenwriter Karen Janszen, who adapted Sparks's book into a screenplay. A kind of low-rent version of Love Story with overt religious overtones, Shankman's film stars teen pop singer Mandy Moore (whose 1999 song "Candy" led her debut album So Real to platinum status) as a sugary-sweet girl who shows the school tough guy the error of his faithless ways, with all the textual sophistication of an after-school special. Moore, with her famous natural blonde hair dyed mousy brown, exudes the kind of cute necessary to convert even the most hard-nosed atheist, as long as he's a male. Shucks, even I gave it a thought.

Landon Carter (Shane West) is the coolest and most popular guy in high school, and therefore the most likely to get into trouble. At this school (in Beaufort, NC), coolness seems to be inversely proportional to goodness. Naturally, therefore, it follows that Jamie Sullivan (Moore), daughter of judgmental Reverend Sullivan (Peter Coyote), is the least cool kid in the school, despite the fact that she is tirelessly nice and uncommonly beautiful behind her plain clothes and geeky façade. Naturally, Jamie is mistreated by Landon and all his cool friends, who berate her for wearing the same sweater every day, volunteering at the local hospital, and singing in church.

But when Landon gets busted by the cops from some juvenile delinquent (in other words, cool) behavior, he is sentenced to community service, which includes just about all of Jamie's favorite activities—including participating in the school play. Although he is loath to speak to her, Landon needs Jamie's help to learn his lines. She agrees to help him, on the condition that he promises not to fall in love with her. "This is not a problem," he says, but, of course, her feminine wiles start to work on him, and he begins to question his cool heritage. Soon he is not only enjoying her company, but also renouncing his old friends, buying her a new sweater, and building a telescope so they may spend some quality after-dark time together. But all is not well in the blissful land of teen love. Jamie has a dreadful secret that could not only end their affair, it could endanger the environment, filling the entire world's landfills with wet, soppy facial tissues.

I kid. I kid because I love. Really, this film shows that Moore has some potential as a brunette...I mean, as an actress. She really doesn't do too badly for a person not old enough to drive, especially when you consider the pandering quality of the text she is forced to interpret. And West, who was nothing short of putrid in last year's Get Over It, does much better here. Also present is Daryl Hannah, whose career arc has taken her from high-profile leading roles in Splash and Roxanne to playing some kid's mom in a soon-to-be-forgotten teen romance. Well, it was the obvious next move for her. **½

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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