Predictable scenario sinks 'Down'

Movie: Down to You

Our Rating: 1.00

The official reason given for the lack of an advance screening of teenybopper love story "Down to You" had something to do with technical difficulties experienced by the lab. Miraculously enough, prints were available to theaters just in time for the movie's opening weekend.

The real story, we suspect, is much more common. The studio honchos at Miramax, home of prestigious Oscar-studded favorites in recent years, took one look at this tepid romantic comedy and figured that reviews would only make a bad situation worse. This is pure speculation, of course. But if that scenario actually transpired, then the screening cancellation was a good decision. "Down to You" is no Shakespeare in Love. Those with high expectations might be blindsided by the predictability and insipidity of the sophomore feature from writer/director Kris Isacsson.

Isacsson began his career as a director of public-service announcements, and if "Down to You" were a PSA, the message might go something like this: Believe in love hard enough, and all your dreams will come true. That essentially is the extent of the story of Al (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and Imogen (Julia Stiles), a pair of too-cute New York college kids who overcome low expectations and fall head over heels with each other.

They wake up in love, break up and, three or four years later, reflect on the perfection of their relationship, via voice-overs, flashbacks and flash-forwards. Think of Isacsson's time-killer as "When Harry Met Sally" minus the charm, the comedy, the believable heartbreak and the good acting. It's The Story of Us without anyone whose story is remotely compelling. Early on, the viewer starts hoping that the couple in question will quit stalling and get on with it.

Isacsson, whose writing about relationships pales even in comparison with simplistic sitcoms, surrounds his leads with a cast of folks designed solely as "colorful" diversions. Al's dad Ray (Henry Winkler, the film's sole bright spot) is a talented cook with his own TV show. Mom (Lucie Arnaz) is a DJ, intent on making the young couple select a theme song for their relationship.

Thus we're subjected to Imogen lip-synching and shaking her way through Al Green's "Let's Stay Together" and Al doing something similar with Barry White's "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe." These soulful pieces only emphasize the bland personalities of our protagonists.

Other characters straight out of Fantasy-land include an ex-chemistry major now thriving as a porn star (Selma Blair) and a chubby, pompous actor and filmmaker (Zak Orth) who has suddenly graduated from skin flicks to mainstream movies. There's a class nympho, too, who uses bodybuilding and questionable pick-up tactics in his search for the perfect mate, and one fellow who thinks he's Jim Morrison of the Doors.

Prinze (She's All That), Stiles (10 Things I Hate About You) and Blair (Cruel Intentions) might be forgiven for the bad choices young actors often make in the course of jump-starting their careers. Isacsson, on the other hand, ought to be blamed for his adolescent-minded view of romance, complete with lame sex jokes and an utter lack of sophistication when it comes to the highs and lows of young love.

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