Whatever It Takes

What will this movie do to make sure it never strays from the established teen-romantic-comedy formula? Whatever it takes.

The film, just like its characters, comes across as blandly likable, despite being completely predictable and 100 percent surprise-free. Ryan (Shane West) and Maggie (Marla Sokoloff) are next-door neighbors and best friends in an unnamed Southern California suburb. Ryan has the hots for the hottest girl in school, Ashley (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe), while a jock named Chris (James Franco) wants Maggie.

Chris, being Ashley’s cousin, has the power to get her and Ryan together, but only if Ryan will in turn help him with Maggie. This leads to an amusing, almost insightful series of scenes in which Ryan tells the insensitive clod Chris the right things to say to Maggie (no one knows her better than Ryan does, after all), while Chris helps Ryan understand that Ashley likes guys who are jerks.

A scene with the four of them at a carnival cuts back and forth between the two couples, with Chris complimenting Maggie on her shirt (even though it’s his, and she’s wearing it because she was getting cold), while Ryan tells Ashley she looks awful in those jeans.

Both plans work. Unfortunately, just about the time the utterly transparent Ashley wants to jump in the sack with Ryan, he is realizing that all the sweet things he’s been telling Chris to say to Maggie — well, HE means them. He’s in love with Maggie, and always has been.

Surprised? Of course not. Nor will you be surprised when everything turns out utterly the way it should, without a single ambiguity, difficult decision, or compromise. Every one of the stock characters gets exactly what they deserve.

Calling Ryan and Maggie stock characters, though, is a bit of stretch, since they have so little in the way of personalities, even stock ones. At least Ashley is superficial and cheap and Chris is a dumb, sex-crazed jock. Ryan and Maggie are just generically “sweet,” which hardly constitutes a character.

But, darn it all, it’s the kind of generic sweetness that makes them kinda appealing. There are some genuinely amusing moments in the film, too, including a baseball coach who hits his players with his pitches, and a Titanic-themed prom that turns appropriately disastrous. Not a single bit of it is believable, but it’s fun anyway.

The movie actually has a rather romantic heart, though it tries desperately to cover it up with teen-film crudeness and allegedly wacky supporting characters. For its genre, it’s strictly by-the-numbers, formulaic twaddle. But if you like the genre, it’s got all the elements it needs to make it a successful example of it.

B- (; PG-13, mild-to-moderate profanity, abundant vulgarity, sexual dialogue, sexual situations, brief partial nudity, a huge sculpture depicting male nudity, teen-age drinking.)