2001, Movie, PG-13, 95 mins


ROMEO AND JULIET in contemporary California, only without the poetry or any other particular discernible reason to exist. Nicole Oakley (Kirsten Dunst, who's growing nicely into her looks) is a rich, rather languidly rebellious seventeen-year-old (at one point she wears what appears to be an antique Blondie promo T-shirt) who falls hard for classmate Carlos Nunez (Jay Hernandez), a straight arrow football star and A-student who's on the fast track out of the barrio. Later, we find that Nicole's personal life, unsurprisingly, is considerably messier than we originally assumed. Her father (Bruce Davison) is emotionally distant (he's an earnest liberal congressman who, in one of the film's few good jokes, is on a first-name basis with Martin Sheen). Her stepmother (Lucinda Jenney) is a caricature of a spoiled bitch and, of course, there's the inevitable dark secret in Nicole's past that explains all her bad behavior (which, if truth be told, isn't really all that bad; mostly she tipples a bit and keeps a sensitive photo-journal). Nunez, meanwhile, must endure the obligatory shot-from-both-sides crap from friends and family until the course of true love smoothes out and the mismatched pair is allowed to cruise into the sunset to the accompaniment of an earnest (is there any other kind?) alternative rock ballad. This is all numbingly predictable, even allowing for the film's modest twist on wrong-side-of-the-tracks-romance clichés. Dunst's father, you see, wants to break them up not because he thinks Hernandez will ruin his little girl's future, but because he's afraid she'll screw up Carlos's efforts to better himself. That small sign of intelligent life notwithstanding, this is the sort of film that will have you looking at your watch roughly as soon as the opening credits end. And adding insult to injury, it deserves numerous extra demerits for giving the perennially misused Davison yet another underwritten role that completely wastes his considerable talents. leave a comment --Steve Simels

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