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Endless Love (2014)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Endless, Yes. Love, Not So Much. . ."
1 stars

"Endless Love" is an emotionally shattering and surprisingly powerful ode to the intoxicating and sometimes terrifying strength of true passion--especially of the adolescent variety--and how it can spiral out of control and consume anything that it comes into contact with, especially when outside forces are threatening to stop it by any means necessary. I should probably add that the "Endless Love" that I am referring to is the 1979 best-selling novel by Scott Spencer, a work of true literature that continues to ring as truthfully today as it did when it was first published and which also puts that "Fifty Shades of Grey" gibberish to shame in how it managed to create erotic passages that were both sexy and well-written to boot. (All of you children of the Eighties who recently confessed to owning well-thumbed copies of "Flowers in the Attic" would have been better off thumbing through this one instead.) And yet, the novel is not particularly well-remembered today because it was overshadowed by the 1981 screen adaptation by Franco Zeffirelli film that transformed it into a vehicle for teen queen Brooke Shields that was instantly laughed out of theaters from coast to coast. It wasn't Shields' fault--she had the kind of star charisma that not even a film this bad could completely muzzle and was the best thing about it--but in bringing it to the screen, Zeffirelli managed to make every conceivable mistake and even a few frankly inconceivable ones to boot.

The result was an all-out disaster that pretty much stopped the screen careers of Shields and her co-star, the then and future unknown Martin Hewitt, cold and it would be completely forgotten today if it weren't for the massively popular title song by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross and for the fact that it marked the screen debuts of both James Spader and Tom Cruise. In other words, if someone were to attempt a new screen version of the story, you would assume that if nothing else, it would almost have to be better than the old one, especially considering the fact that two hours of nothing but black leader would be considered an improvement in some circles. And yet, the new "Endless Love" not only manages to surpass the first edition in terms of sheer cinematic stupidity, there is a very good chance that it will go down as one of the worst page-to-screen adaptations in Hollywood history. Take heed, Demi Moore version of "The Scarlet Letter"--you have been well and verily usurped.

Set in an affluent suburb of Atlanta--presumably in the salad days before the entire state of Georgia was thrown into "The Purge"-levels of lawless anarchy following the arrival of two inches of frozen water--the film opens at a high school graduation and introduces us to our star-crossed lovers-to-be. Jade Butterfield (Gabriella Wilde) is a smart, gorgeous and sheltered young lass whose family is still reeling from the death of her older brother two years earlier. With one child in the grave and his other son (Rhys Wakefield) more interested in such déclassé pursuits as studying communications and dating Asian girls, Jade's overprotective father, Hugh (Bruce Greenwood) has mapped out her entire life to follow in the footsteps of her fallen sibling--a summer medical internship, college at Brown and a career as a brilliant cardiologist--and wants nothing to get in the way. (Besides, he already put a down payment on the stethoscope.)

Although I don't think we actually see them, this town clearly has a set of tracks because living on the wrong side of them is David Elliot (Alex Pettyfer), a poor-but-hunky type who lives with his poor-but-honest mechanic father (Robert Patrick), works at the snooty country club with his poor-but-African-American friend Mace (Dayo Okeniyi) and has no real plans for his future despite having, we are assured, the kind of genius IQ that could assure him a place in the hallowed halls of the University of Georgia in Atlanta. He has also been nursing a long-standing crush on classmate Jade even though he is certain that she has never noticed him before. This seems a tad unlikely as David is certainly the type that would stand out in a group of high schoolers, if only because he looks to be at least a decade older than the rest of them. Seriously, this guy could have attempted to work as an undercover narc at a high school for the blind and his classmates still would have pegged him as a fraud in about sixteen seconds flat.

Anyway, David and Jade finally meet cute at the country club when they, along with Mace, sort of steal a car together--don't ask--and by the time he fills her graduation party with classmates instead of the old fuddy-duddies that her father invited (a party that includes a game in which couple are asked to draw the name of a song out of a hat and perform a fully choreographed dance to it, an idea that I submit has never actually occurred at any party not officially thrown by the late Bob Fosse), the two are crazy-go-nuts for each other. Hugh, on the other hand, fears the distraction that David poses to Jade and remains unconvinced even after David fixes the dead son's prized automobile free of charge as a way of getting into his good graces. This is the point when most people will realize how unrealistic the film is because I know plenty of guys who would happily sacrifice the virginity of their daughters in exchange for a cheap and reliable mechanic. Lucky for David, Jade feels somewhat differently and cheerfully relinquishes that trophy in a sequence that, it must be said, demonstrates more inventive choreography than the party sequence.

Before long, Jade is doing things that are completely out of character for her--standing up for herself, rejecting the summer internship, smiling--and becomes totally devoted to David. Hugh tries to separate the two bring taking the family on an impromptu vacation to their lake house but finds his carefully crafted plan crumbling before his eyes when Jade invites David to join them and the interloper happens to catch him in the garage with the mistress that he inexplicably brought along for the ride, as it were. Hugh tries to elicit the sympathy of his estranged wife, Anne (Joely Richardson) and Keith but they also think that David is the most wonderful, level-headed, salt-of-the-earth boy on the planet and perfect for Jade--one-time novelist Anne is especially won over when David confesses that he has read her book and that it "reminded me of how much I love reading." Undaunted, Hugh starts digging into David's past and comes up with the one dark secret of his past--one that is surprising that Jade doesn't know about considering that they were classmates for so long--that he successfully uses to drive a wedge between the two. However, a grand passion like this cannot be tamed and come Christmas break, it all goes sideways with potentially tragic results for all.

As anyone with even the slightest familiarity with the original source material can attest just from a brief skim of the above plot recap, this iteration of "Endless Love" deviates so wildly from the book that with just a couple of additional tweaks, no one would have suspected that it was an adaptation in the first place. To list all of the variations would lead to a review approximately as long as the actual book, so I won't go into them in detail. Okay, I will mention just a couple of them. For example, in the book, David is 17 while Jade is only 15 and while that is an age gap of only a couple of years, it makes all the difference in the world in a story like this. Also, Jade's parents are a bohemian-style couple whose laid-back attitude actually extends to allow David to sleep with Jade in her room with their full knowledge and it is only when the romance begins to negatively affect her does her father begin to step in. There are many other examples but these two changes should suggest how radically the story has been altered and make viewers wonder why director Shana Feste (the auteur of "Country Strong") and her co-writer Joshua Safran would choose to restage "Endless Love" in a way that eradicates the very things that made it unique in the first place.

Mind you, I do not necessarily object when a book changes radically when it becomes a movie--after all, the film version of "Jaws" has very little to do with the book and I don't think anyone has ever dared to suggest that it was anything other than a vast improvement. What I do object to is when the changes are handled badly and in this case, they have been made in such incompetent fashion that it almost seems as if all involved were deliberately trying to make the worst film imaginable. What was once a complex examination of young lust coexisting uneasily with the real world now looks and sounds like a busted CW pilot and the conceit that David has been driven mad by his passion for Jade and his desire to keep the flame burning at all costs has been lost completely.

Instead, the film has been transformed into a gooney romance about two nice kids whose blossoming love is threatened by Jade's meanie father, a grumpy old man who just doesn't realize what a wonderful person David really is because he is just a big stupid head. Even the central event of the book--a fire that David deliberately sets at the Butterfield home so that he can win his way back into the fold by "discovering" the blaze and saving the day--has been rejiggered so that it too is all Dad's fault. In essence, this is the kind of "Endless Love" that the book's David might have dreamed up while institutionalized as a way of rationalizing his actions. What is even more bizarre is that the film offers up occasional appearances by David's ex-girlfriend (Emma Rigby) and her attempts to win him back actually come closer to hitting upon the theme of obsessive love than the story proper.

The funny thing is that "Endless Love" might have been able to survive most of its narrative incompetence if the powerful attraction between Jade and David was even remotely believable but once again, the film fails spectacularly in that regard. Again, the previous film stumbled in this regard as well, largely due to Martin Hewitt's terrible performance, the awkward use of a body double for Shields during the more intimate moments and the fact that he looked way too old for her but compared to this, Shields and Hewitt seem like Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy in "Before Midnight" in terms of striking sparks. Wilde is pretty enough in a superficial way but she is otherwise a complete blank throughout and the idea of her becoming a brilliant cardiologist would be implausible even in the most paranoid conservative fantasy of the Affordable Care Act. Pettyfer is a dullard throughout and the fact that he looks way too old for the part undermines the story throughout--after seeing someone taking it all off as a stripper in "Magic Mike," it is somewhat difficult to then accept them as a recent high school graduate. Together, they strike zero sparks and generate less raw sensuality than Kevin Hart and Ice-T managed to display in "Ride Along." To be fair, they are hindered in their efforts by the decision to keep the eroticism to an absolute minimum--there is basically one big love scene of a decidedly PG-13 variety and that is pretty much it. To replace the passionate love scenes, we are treated at one point to a demented sequence in which the two, along with some friends, break into a local zoo after hours to gambol among the animals while the apes look upon them impassively, no doubt hoping that there is something to this whole creationism thing after all.

Unless one looks at it strictly as camp, and even that gets wearisome after a while, "Endless Love" is a botch of staggering proportions, though specific reactions to its incompetency will vary. For anyone encountering the story for the first time, it will just seem like another crappy melodrama out to squeeze a few bucks from hopeless romantics this Valentine's Day weekend. For those familiar with the book or even the previous movie (which, for all of its stupidity, at least tried to grapple with the ideas found in the book), it will come across as a jaw-dropping perversion of the material that couldn't be worse if it tried. For Scott Spencer, it may cause him to wonder what horrible acts in a previous life he must have committed in order to be cursed to have written a brilliant book that could nevertheless inspire two of the worst films ever made. However, in a few days, somewhere in Italy, Franco Zeffirelli will be sitting out on his veranda reading the trades. He will put down the paper and whatever unmanly European coffee beverage he is sipping, look out into the distance and utter a simple "Phew."

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=25822&reviewer=389
originally posted: 02/14/14 08:33:28
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USA
  14-Feb-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 27-May-2014

UK
  14-Feb-2014 (12A)

Australia
  13-Feb-2014
  DVD: 27-May-2014




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