Friday, March 24, 2000

Well-worn ground

Movie: Here on Earth

Posted on Fri, Mar 24, 2000 at 4:00 AM

Our Rating: 1.50

Take three up-and-coming teen stars, throw them into a melodramatic plot (part "Splendor in the Grass," part "Love Story") about a prep-school brat who falls in love with a farm-girl townie and you'll have "Here on Earth." Exactly what goal screenwriter Michael Seitzman was trying to achieve with this concoction is unclear, but the alleged modern-day love story seems more like a rejected script from another era.

After receiving a brand-new BMW convertible as his graduation present, Kelley Morse (Chris Klein of "Election" and "American Pie") takes a couple of his buds out for an unauthorized spin. Their outing lands them in the small Massachusetts town adjacent to their prep school, where they invade the local hangout, Mable's Table. After the arrogant Kelley begins flirting shamelessly with Samantha (Leelee Sobieski of "Eyes Wide Shut"), the owner's daughter and a waitress at the restaurant, her boyfriend, Jasper (Josh Hartnett of "The Faculty") takes off in his own car after Kelley. The resulting game of chicken ends in the destruction of the diner.

This implausible opening sequence serves only to set up a reason for Kelley to spend the summer in the sleepy country burg: His punishment for his part in destroying the restaurant is to hang around long enough to help rebuild it. It's also a fine opportunity for him to pursue his flirtations with Samantha.

"Here on Earth" bears a resemblance to such campy 1950s melodramas as "A Summer Place," but it takes itself far too seriously to raise even the slightest hint of guilty pleasure. Three-fourths of the way through the film, the filmmakers seem to realize that the plot is going nowhere, so they add a terminal illness to the brew for cheap dramatic effect.

In his third major film role, Klein proves once again that he can definitely make an audience swoon. When it comes to solid acting, however, he still has a long way to go. Sobieski, whose mature and sophisticated countenance has always belied her age, is particularly miscast as the country girl who falls in love with the city boy. Only Hartnett, who demonstrates the one example of solid acting in the film, walks away noticeably unscathed by the project.

Annette O'Toole, who seemed to vanish after several major roles in the late '70s and early '80s, walks zombielike through the film as Samantha's mother, Jo Cavanaugh.

Its creators are obviously trying to take the teen genre in a direction other than slasher films and goofy comedies, but its lack of any semblance of dramatic believability prevents "Here on Earth" from ever being adequately grounded.


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