Back in 1981, director Franco Zeffirelli cast 16-year-old Brooke Shields in the teen love story, “Endless Love,” based on the novel by Scott Spencer. This story of an ill-fated romance didn’t get much love from reviewers, but was a moderate hit at the box office. Probably the most memorable aspects was the theme song by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie. Now, 33 years later, the story has been loosely re-done by director Shaa Feste (“Country Strong”) in a script that she co-wrote with Joshua Safran -- a veteran of the teen TV show, “Gossip Girl.”
The names of the main characters remain the same, although their backgrounds veer in new directions. Gabriella Wilde (“Carrie”) plays Jade Butterfield, a sheltered, graduating high school senior whose wealthy family still suffers from a tragic death. We find out very quickly -- in fact, in the opening voice over -- that she’s been loved from afar by fellow student David Elliot, played by Alex Pettyfer from the male stripper film, “Magic Mike.” Despite being incredibly handsome and popular, David has never had the courage to talk to her. That plot point is a little baffling, but they soon make a connection at the exclusive club to which her family belongs, and where David works as a valet. Their burgeoning romance doesn’t sit well with her surgeon father (the always excellent Bruce Greenwood) who isn’t too happy about his beautiful daughter dating the son of a garage mechanic. Greenwood is effective in that he wisely plays the dad not as caricature, and has given a not-very-likeable character a few positive traits.
The first half of the movie moves along nicely. Pettyfer is engaging as the boyfriend, although one of his go-to acting techniques consists of him lowering his eyes, then looking up at whomever he’s talking to as if to make a point. He goes to that move far too often. Wilde, on the other hand, plays her role with the right mix of innocence and sexual awakening. Director Feste made a wise choice by keeping their love scenes romantic rather than explicit.
Dayo Okeniy (“The Hunger Games”) deserves a special mention for his performance as David’s friend, Mace. He only has a few scenes, but manages to inject some needed humor whenever he pops up.
Despite a strong start, “Endless Love” unfortunately soon begins to veer off into predictable, then almost laughable, territory. Sure, the romance-with-the-boy-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks story is a movie staple, but there comes a point here when it feels like the filmmakers are throwing every possible calamity at the couple to keep them from each other’s arms. The film’s big climax is especially heavy-handed with no ambiguity about the choices the characters have to make. It’s like the filmmakers are drawing the audience a map to show what’s going on. At the screening I attended, a lot of people were bursting out with incredulous laughter, although to be fair, a few were also applauding with approval.
My verdict: “Endless Love” is nothing memorable and won’t be seducing very many moviegoers.
2 popcorn boxes out of 4