Those Crazy Kids

Hart and Grenier overcome a dumb script.
Jim Sheldon

The fact that Drive Me Crazy is actually based on a novel (How I Created My Perfect Prom Date, by Todd Strasser) is a sadder comment on the state of contemporary young adult fiction than anything else. Not that the story's all that bad, but it seems like intellectual bankruptcy that Hollywood didn't even think up a script that feels as if it was created by shuffling a deck of teen-movie-cliché cards and letting them fall where they may. If that sounds unduly harsh, the movie itself is actually quite agreeable. But it's mainly thanks to a group of actors who are able to salvage the paper-thin material.

In a very welcome casting change for this type of movie, not one of the stars has a background that includes either Party of Five or Dawson's Creek (the screenwriter, yes, but no cast members). Instead, we get the wonderfully talented Melissa Joan Hart, who while most recently known for ABC's Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, has also been rightfully acclaimed for her Nickelodeon series Clarissa Explains It All, which was a smart teen show back when Nickelodeon was nothing but dumb. At any rate, she has been long overdue for a big-screen starring role. And her leading man? Adrian Grenier, recently seen as the title character in The Adventures of Sebastian Cole.

Now here's the premise they're saddled with: Nicole (Hart) has been desperately trying to get the star high school basketball player to ask her out. It looks as though he will, but at the last minute he falls for a rival school's cheerleader. Meanwhile, Nicole's next-door neighbor Chase (Grenier) has had a bad breakup with his girlfriend and wants to win her back. Nicole proposes a solution: If she and Chase pretend to be a couple, they can make their respective would-be paramours jealous enough to want them again. Naturally we know where this is going.


Drive Me Crazy.

Rated PG-13.

For the most part we're in teen-movie fantasy world from the get-go. Every high school student looks older and more beautiful than any actual high schooler, the kids all seem to have an infinite wardrobe budget, and the school not only has its own fully equipped TV studio, it also manages to set up an end-of-year dance that makes the MTV Video Awards ceremony look frugal.

Where Drive Me Crazy diverges from most high school movies, however, is in its (gasp!) evenhanded portrayal of the popular and unpopular crowds. Most movies would stack the deck one way or the other, and director John Schultz (Bandwagon), along with screenwriter Rob Thomas, does generalize a little, but even the jocks -- traditionally the meanest and dumbest characters in the genre -- are portrayed as multidimensional characters. The story's ultimate message is one of compromise.

Nicole cleans Chase up and forces him to come to basketball games and cruise Main Street, and soon he's charming even the sports team members, who address him as "Hambone." Chase, on the other hand, after much arm-twisting, manages to get Nicole to come with him to a punk-Goth club, confront the shallowness of some of her friends and realize that nerds are people, too.

Even the soundtrack is evenhanded, and not just in a blatantly calculated "let's hit every demographic" kind of way. The title cut, in case you haven't already heard it 50 times on commercial radio, is by Britney Spears, and Backstreet Boys also makes an appearance. The punk kids, though, are actually represented by a legitimate, noncorporate punk band in The Donnas. Finally, proving that the younger siblings of Generation X share their forebears' love of pure cheese, we get REO Speedwagon's "Keep On Loving You" as a prominently placed motif.

In addition to the intelligent and charismatic leads, Schultz gets great supporting performances from, among others, Mark Webber (the forthcoming Whiteboys) as Designated Dave, the guy whose job it is to drive drunken classmates home; Kris Park as Ray, the token Internet geek/film school wanna-be; and William Converse-Roberts as Chase's father, acting like Ray Romano's psychotic twin. There is a prominent appearance by one of the stars of a WB teen show, but it's Stephen Collins, the father from Seventh Heaven, as Nicole's deadbeat dad. Most of the young cast are relative newcomers and haven't had time to get irritatingly overexposed (Jennifer Love Hewitt, anyone?). Melissa Joan Hart is obviously the most seasoned and exposed, but this pretty, smart and talented young lady deserves all the success she can get. Can't wait to see what she'll do when she gets hold of a real script.

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